Early features of autism spectrum disorder: A cross-sectional study

Antonia Parmeggiani, Arianna Corinaldesi, Annio Posar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by impairment in social interaction and communication along with repetitive, restricted, and stereotyped behaviors, interests and activities. It is important to detect this condition as soon as possible and promptly begin targeted treatments. This study aimed to report on age at onset, early signs, and mode at onset in 105 Italian patients with autism spectrum disorder, searching for correlations with a series of clinical and instrumental variables. Methods: This retrospective cross-sectional study considered the following five categories of symptoms at onset: Language, social interaction and relationships, stereotyped behavior and activities, motor skills, and regulation. Three modes of presentation were considered: A delay, a stagnation, or a regression of development, which were defined modes of onset of autism spectrum disorder. The age at onset, the category of clinical features, and the mode at onset were considered in the entire sample and statistically analyzed for several clinical variables. Statistical analysis was performed utilizing Fisher Exact test and Chi Square test. Results: The first symptoms between 7 and 12 months were evident in 41.9% of cases, and between 13 and 24 months in 27.6%; no significant differences for the age at onset related to diagnosis, etiopathogenesis, early onset epilepsy, and intelligence quotient level emerged. Social interaction and relationships (93.3%) and language (92.4%) were the categories of early signs more represented in our sample. Delay in spoken language (to be understood as both verbal production and verbal comprehension) was one of the most common (even though not specific) symptoms prompting initial medical consultation for a possible diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. At onset, patients without intellectual disability manifested stagnation more often than delay or regression of development; patients with a severe/profound intellectual disability more frequently showed delay or regression of development. Language signs at onset were less frequent in cases with regression, whereas motor skill disorders prevailed in cases with delay at onset. Feeding problems were more numerous in cases with delay and stagnation of development. Conclusions: These data contribute to identifying an early trend of autism spectrum disorder, useful also for pediatricians.

Original languageEnglish
Article number144
JournalItalian Journal of Pediatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 14 2019


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Children
  • Early diagnosis
  • Intellectual disability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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