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Autism is a common health problem in children. Achieving early diagnosis is still a challenge leading to delayed treatment. Many scholars have tried to establish clinical manifestations of the disorder to help in the making of early diagnoses. Rozenkrantz et al. (2015) conducted a research study that explored the link between this disease and olfaction in young children, which can assist clinicians to make early diagnoses. The findings of this study that is published in the Current Biology show that conducting a sniff test alone can detect not only the presence but also the severity of autism in young children.
Summary of the Journal Article
The study aimed at exploring the association between olfaction and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers recruited eligible children who had no acute respiratory infections or organic smell disturbances that could interfere with the sense of smell. The control and ASD groups had 18 participants each; 17 of the participants were boys (Rozenkrantz et al., 2015). Apart from gender, other factors were controlled including parental education and age. Before recruiting the participants, the study sought approval from the Israeli National Helsinki Committees and the Assaf Harofe Medical Center, which was granted (Rozenkrantz et al., 2015). When seating in front of computer monitors to view cartoons, children were exposed to both unpleasant and pleasant odors. The pleasantness was rated on a six-point visual analog scale (VAS) with a sad and happy face meaning unpleasant and pleasant respectively. Butyric acid and rotten fish were unpleasant odorants while the pleasant ones were phenyl ethyl alcohol and herbal essence.
The results indicated the presence of a link between olfaction and ASD. Children in the control group had an adult sniff response within 305 microseconds after the onset of the odor while those in the ASD group had altered responses because they sniffed equally regardless of the odor valence (Rosencrantz et al., 2015). Sniff response variations were consistent irrespective of the perception of smell leading to 81% correct ASD classification using the sniff response alone (Rosencrantz et al., 2015). Furthermore, it was found that ASD severity was coupled with increasingly aberrant sniffing but not motor impairments. These findings reveal that the sniff test can reveal both the presence and severity of ASD in young children. The researchers, therefore, concluded that the findings unearthed an ASD marker that denotes the link between the disease and olfaction, which directly links impairment of internal action models and impaired social abilities.
Importance of the Topic
The link between autism and ASD can impact professional practice in a positive manner. However, the general population can misuse this information. Health professionals can utilize the research to enhance the process of diagnosing the disease in young children who cannot speak because the test requires only facial expressions and a sense of smell. Such a thing can add value to the treatment of the disorder. However, the general population can use this information to label all children with altered sniff responses as ASD cases even without considering variables like respiratory infections. Rozenkrantz et al. (2015) excluded children who had smell disturbances or acute respiratory infections because they could alter normal sniffing responses. Such a thing means that people can even label non-ASD children as individuals with the disorder. This labeling can attract negative attitudes to both ASD and non-ASD children who display sniff response abnormalities.
The link between ASD and olfaction can be used in diagnosing young children with autism. Normally, young children have a typical adult-type sniff response to different types of odors. However, children with ASD do not distinguish between pleasant and unpleasant odors. Clinicians can utilize this information in making diagnoses of the disorder to enhance early treatment. However, the acquisition of the same information by the public can have adverse consequences.
Rozenkrantz, L., Zachor, D., Heller, I., Plotkin, A., Weissbrod, A., Snitz, K.,…, Sobel, N. (2015). A mechanistic link between olfaction and autism spectrum disorder. Current Biology, 25(14), 1904-1910.