The goal of this review of the research literature is to discuss approaches to the early detection of autism in infancy. Early detection would enable diagnoses to be made before 18 months of age rather than at 24-30 months, the age where diagnoses start to be made now. After summarizing the criteria for a deficit to be considered "core" to the disorder, the literature on research strategies used in early detection is examined. In order to guide the design of future studies, the review then turns to an overview of what is known about the processes of early social development in typically developing children that underlie the domains in which core deficits are manifested in young children with autism. The social domains covered in the review are those that show development in typically developing infants below 18 months of age: dyadic interaction and imitation; emotion discrimination; and attachment. The review concludes that all of these areas are worthy of investigation in young children, particularly those at higher risk of showing some of the core deficits of autism such as the infant siblings of children with autism.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.