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July 2, 2015 3:02 pm

Israeli Researchers Say Autism Can be Detected in Toddlers Through Smell

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

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New research suggests autism can be detected among children by the use of a smell test. Photo: Cello Calgagno.

New research suggests autism can be detected among children by the use of a smell test. Photo: Cello Calgagno.

Researchers in Israel have discovered that a non-verbal smell test may be used to detect autism in toddlers, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported on Thursday.

People might normally inhale deeply when smelling something they expect to have a pleasant odor, and try to limit inhaling air nasally when faced with a foul smell. However, those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) do not make the natural differentiation as others do, according to researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

“The difference in sniffing pattern between the typically developing children and children with autism was simply overwhelming,” said Professor Noam Sobel from the Weizmann Institute of Science. “We can identify autism and its severity with meaningful accuracy within less than 10 minutes, using a test that is completely non-verbal and entails no task to follow.”

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For their research, Professor Sobel and his colleagues measured the smelling responses of 18 children with autism and 18 without who were presented with pleasant and unpleasant odors. The average age of children in the study was 7.

The research showed that children without autism adjusted their inhalation of a foul scent within 305 milliseconds while autistic children didn’t adjust at all, the Daily Mail reported. The study found that the difference in sniffing response was enough to correctly diagnose the youngsters 81 percent of the time.

“This raises the hope that these findings could form the base for development of a diagnostic tool that can be applied very early on, such as in toddlers,” Professor Sobel said of the smell test. “Such early diagnosis would allow for more effective intervention.”

The researchers also associated increasingly abnormal behavior when smelling with increasingly severe autism symptoms. 

The team of researchers now plans to see if the sniff pattern is specific to autism or if it might be applied to test for other neuro-developmental conditions, according to the Daily Mail. They also want to determine the earliest age at which it can be effective.

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