A new study done by Israeli researchers shows that autism in children could be detected just by establishing the way they perceive certain smells, as autistic individuals apparently have quite different olfactive perceptions when compared to non-autistic individuals.
The study, published in the Current Biology journal on Saturday, claims that children who develop normally will modify the way they breathe when they encounter certain smells – such as taking a deep breath from pleasant ones and trying to avoid the uncomfortable ones, usually in a very short time – about a second. At the same time, children suffering from autism will have a normal breath rate regardless of smell.
The researchers came to this result after a study involving 36 children, half with normal development and the other half suffering from autistic disorders. All of them were exposed to 10 different pleasant smells (such as lilac or shampoo) and to another 10 unpleasant ones (such as rotten fish or sewage).
Based on test results alone, one group of the researchers (who were unaware of which of test subjects were autistic and which weren’t) managed to offer the right diagnostic in 81 percent of cases, identifying 17 of normally developed children and 12 of those suffering from autism spectrum disorder. This offers the option of identifying autism in children who are too young to exhibit the social symptoms of it.
According to the study, the method uncovers a “novel marker implying a mechanistic link between the underpinnings of olfaction and autism spectrum disorder directly linking an impaired IAM with impaired social abilities.”
Another thing mentioned is that abnormal behavior displayed when sniffing different types of pleasant or unpleasant odors resulted was often associated with more severe types of autism. This potentially means that instead of just determining the absence or presence of autism, the test could be used to also pinpoint the type and severity of the affliction.
The experiment is still a long way from being used as a clinical trial, with a lot more tests needed to accurately prove it as a reliable deduction method for autism in children. One of their future goals is to test whether this method applies only to autism disorders or can be used on a wider range of neuro-developmental conditions.
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