Sniffing tests could help diagnose autism, say researchers

Researchers say the findings could be crucial in diagnosing the condition amongst non-verbal chidlren

Siobhan Fenton
Friday 03 July 2015 11:42 BST
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The research could prove crucial in diagnosing autism amongst non-verbal children
The research could prove crucial in diagnosing autism amongst non-verbal children (Photo by Monkey Business Images/REX)

How children sniff different smells could form the basis of a new way to test autism.

A study by researchers in Israel has found that unlike those without autism, autistic children spend just as long inhaling unpleasant scents as they do pleasant scents. They now believe that the test could provide a key indication of autism in non-verbal children.

The study, published in the Current Biology journal, exposed children to unpleasant smells such as rotten fish and nice ones such as shampoo or flowers. They found that children without autism would inhale the nicer scents to a much greater extent than the less pleasant odours. However, children with autism inhaled similar levels of both.

The researchers believe that sense of smell has a role in social interaction, which could explain its link to autism.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with other people. It is estimated that around 700,000 people in the UK have the condition.

Dr Judith Brown, from the UK’s National Autistic Society, said: “Getting a diagnosis is a crucial step to unlocking vital support services which can make a huge difference to people on the autism spectrum and their families.

“We believe that the possibility of developing a single and universal diagnostic test for autism is unlikely.

“However, in the future, if these initial findings are confirmed and fully understood, differences relating to processing smell may offer an additional tool in the necessarily multi-faceted process of diagnosing autism.”

One of the researchers, PhD student Liron Rozenkrantz, told the BBC: “Before we can use it as a diagnostic test, we need to know at what age children start to develop a sniff response in the general population.

“Are you born with it? Do you develop it later in life? No-one has looked at it yet.

“I think what we have is an interesting place to start, but we do have a way to go.”

Additional reporting by PA

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