Objective: To test the hypothesis that children born preterm are more likely to screen positive on the M-CHAT for an autism spectrum disorder.
Study design: We compared the M-CHAT positive rate of those with cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, and vision and hearing impairments to those without such deficits.
Results: Relative to children who could walk, the odds for screening positive on the M-CHAT were increased 23-fold for those unable to sit or stand independently and more than 7-fold for those requiring assistance to walk. Compared with children without a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, those with quadriparesis were 13 times more likely to screen positive, and those with hemiparesis were 4 times more likely to screen positive. Children with major vision or hearing impairments were 8 times more likely to screen positive than those without such impairments. Relative to those with a Mental Development Index (MDI) of >70, the odds for screening positive were increased 13-fold for those with an MDI of <55 and more than 4-fold for those with an MDI of 55 to 69.
Conclusions: Major motor, cognitive, visual, and hearing impairments appear to account for more than half of the positive M-CHAT screens in extremely low gestational age newborns. Even after those with such impairments were eliminated, 10% of children--nearly double the expected rate--screened positive.