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New austism diagnosis program to be tested in Arizona

PHOENIX — An Arizona research nonprofit is testing a new screening process that could lower the state’s autism diagnosis age from 5 years to 18 months.

The Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to begin testing the triple screen process.

The process was developed by Karen Pierce, a researcher at the University of California-San Diego five years ago. Essentially, doctors follow a short checklist during standard checkups to screen babies for autism. Those that fail are referred for further tests.

Pierce reported 75 percent of babies that failed the test were diagnosed with autism. SARRC will use the same test.

“(It will) follow the same standard screening procedure, which probably takes less than five minutes of office time, and will apply it to every well baby checkup at 12 months, 18 months and 24 months,” Chris Smith with SARRC said.

Less than 10 Valley pediatricians have joined the study. Smith hopes to have 100 involved.

Children who fail the Arizona test will receive a free autism screening.