An early screening tool developed by researchers at La Trobe University has shown its effectiveness in identifying autism in children in a study.

The five-year study, published in JAMA Open, conducted over 13,500 Victorian children revealed the high-level accuracy of SACS-R (Social Attention and Communication Surveillance-Revised) in identifying autism in young children.

The tool is already used in two Australian states and 10 other countries.

In the case of infants aged between 12 to 24 months who were detected by the tool as ‘high likelihood’ for an autism diagnosis, around 83% were found to be diagnosed with autism.

La Trobe University Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) Lead researcher and associate professor Josephine Barbaro said: “The research points to the critical need for the SACS-R and SACS-Preschool to be rolled out across Australia and the world, as part of regular infant health checks.

“Parents are often told to “wait and see” when raising queries about their child’s development. This means the average age of diagnosis is around four to five, and opportunities for early support have been missed.”

The usage of the added SACS-Preschool tool at the 3.5-year health check is said to increase the effectiveness of the identification process.

The testing of SACS-R and SACS-Preschool tools was carried out using funds from Autism CRC, which is funded by the Australian Government.

SACS-R is currently used in Victoria and Tasmania in Australia.

Training is also given to health professionals in ten other countries, including China, Singapore, Poland, Japan, New Zealand, Nepal, and Bangladesh, to use the early screening tool for autism.