According to a study published in the journal Current Biology a sniff tests could help diagnosing autism based on the way in which children who suffer from autism respond to smells.
Normally people react differently when they smell a bouquet of flowers in comparison with the case in which they smell a piece of rotting meat. When the smell is pleasant people usually tend to inhale more air, whereas when the odor is unpleasant they limit their breathing. However this new study suggests that such a difference is not observed in children who suffer from autism.
The research lead by Noam Sobe from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel was conducted on 36 children who took part in an experiment which lasted ten minutes. The researchers used a computer-controlled air-dilution olfactometer on every child. The device was provided with two tubes: a red tube which sent either unpleasant or pleasant smells and a green tube which analyzed the changes in breathing patterns. The researchers used pleasant smells such as shampoo or roses and unpleasant smells of rotten fish and sour milk.
The findings of the study indicate that the healthy children adjusted their sniff response immediately after 305 milliseconds from the moment they were exposed to the unpleasant odor, whereas children who had autism did not adjust their sniff at all. In addition researchers discovered that the more abnormal the sniffing response was in the case of autistic children the more serious their social symptoms of autism were.
The study was able to identify the children who suffered from autism with an accuracy of 81%. Moreover the sniff test takes only ten minutes, it is nonverbal and the child does not need to perform any tasks. However they also noted that further research is needed in order to confirm the findings of the present study.
“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 only a few months old. Such early diagnosis would allow for more effective intervention.”
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