Psychology Researchers Need Dirty Diapers to Further Autism Research

There is growing evidence in the medical field that a community of gut microbiota is associated with anxiety and depressive disorders. Psychology professor Dr. Rebecca Lundwall and her team of researchers are conducting a study to identify the influence of gut microbiota on the development of autism symptoms. The team is recruiting infants 8 to 12 months old to participate in the study to identify an earlier autism diagnosis for children. They especially need infants who have an older sibling with autism.

The team is hoping to help doctors identify autism in children as young as 12 months old. Currently, most autism diagnoses do not occur until age 4 or later. Diagnosis can be difficult especially for parents who do not have an older child to compare the infant’s development to because diagnosis requires identification of delayed developmental milestones. Early diagnosis is important even if a child succeeds academically because autistics struggle socially when life challenges increase dramatically around adolescence or young adulthood.

Dr. Lundwall explains that, “Early autism diagnosis is important because it starts intervention when it’s most effective, while the brain is still developing, and helps children gain social skills.”

The research gets a little dirty
There is increasing evidence that gut health and bacteria are highly correlated with brain activity and it is known that teenagers and adults with autism have different gut microbes from teenagers and adults without autism. Dr. Lundwall’s team is looking for certain gut microbes in babies by collecting dirty diapers and analyzing the microbial makeup of the stool. The team will compare the gut microbes of infants who have a sibling with autism to those who have no relatives with autism.

“We want to help doctors have a simple test to identify autism risk for children at 12 months or younger,” says Lundwall. “Something like this could really level the playing field and help all children, regardless of symptom severity, age and allow children access to resources.”

Lundwall and her team hope that a simple screening test would allow all children who need a referral for a full autism assessment to obtain one.

Join the study
Dr. Lundwall’s team is looking for 100 families with infants-age 8-12 months to join the study. For the control group, participants do not need to have siblings with autism. Compensation is provided and you can get more information by emailing Rebecca_Lundwall@byu.edu.