NEWARK — A 10-question survey developed by researchers at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School has a nearly 90 percent success rate at diagnosing autism spectrum disorder in children 3 years and younger.

But the questionnaire isn't available to the general public. The researchers advise that it be implemented in the context of standard pediatric care. They believe the questionnaire deserves wider application and study.

With the cooperation of pediatric practices in Essex and Union counties, the Rutgers team screened nearly 2,000 18-to-36-month-old children who were not known to have any developmental issues.

Through the two-minute questionnaire, parents were asked a series of questions about their child's social and communication habits. Do they enjoy playing peek-a-boo? Do they respond to their name?

Those who scored low were considered to be at risk of ASD, a developmental disability that is said to affect 1 in 41 New Jersey 8-year-olds, and received comprehensive evaluations to determine whether they were on the spectrum.

The questionnaire recorded a success rate of 88 percent.

For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged doctors to screen children for ASD at 18 and 24 months. It's estimated that only half of all children are screened at that age, however.

"That's a perfect age, we think, because it would be likely that we could catch most of the children with serious autism," Walter Zahorodny, one of the questionnaire's creators, told New Jersey 101.5. "And the brain would be most plastic or open to change."

Zahorodny said the questionnaire was not developed as a tool for parents to use on their own.

"It was designed to be implemented in the context of standard pediatric care because in addition to autism screening, a typical pediatrician would also be doing his own so-called developmental surveillance — looking to see if a child meets all the expected landmarks and is growing appropriately, behaviorally," he said.

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