Diagnostic stability of autism spectrum disorder in toddlers prospectively identified in a community-based setting: Behavioural characteristics and predictors of change over time. Academic Article uri icon


  • Autism spectrum disorder diagnoses in toddlers have been established as accurate and stable across time in high-risk siblings and clinic-referred samples. Few studies have investigated diagnostic stability in children prospective identified in community-based settings. Furthermore, there is a dearth of evidence on the individual behaviours that predict diagnostic change over time. The stability and change of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses were investigated from 24 to 48 months in 77 children drawn from the Social Attention and Communication Study. Diagnostic stability was high, with 88.3% overall stability and 85.5% autism spectrum disorder stability. The behavioural markers at 24 months that contributed to diagnostic shift off the autism spectrum by 48 months included better eye contact, more directed vocalisations, the integration of gaze and directed vocalisations/gestures and higher non-verbal developmental quotient. These four variables correctly predicted 88.7% of children into the autism spectrum disorder-stable and autism spectrum disorder-crossover groups overall, with excellent prediction for the stable group (96.2%) and modest prediction for the crossover group (44.4%). Furthermore, non-verbal developmental quotient at 24 months accounted for the significant improvement across time in 'Social Affect' scores on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule for both groups and was the only unique predictor of diagnostic crossover. These findings contribute to the body of evidence on the feasibility of diagnoses at earlier ages to facilitate children's access to interventions to promote positive developmental outcomes.

publication date

  • 2017