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Friday, July 3, 2015

Smell Test for Autism? Maybe, Maybe Not

Like many other outlets, The International Business Times is reporting on a possible "smell test" for autism:
It may be possible to diagnose autism in children by measuring their reaction to smells, according to a new study that found a marked difference in the reaction to odors from children with the disorder, compared to those without it.
While most people automatically inhale a pleasant smell deeply, and seek to limit their breathing in order to avoid unpleasant ones, autistic children do not make this distinction, the study, published in the journal Current Biology, found.
In The Politics of Autism, I discuss media coverage. Journalists frequently over-interpret or misinterpret research findings, and sometimes the stories rest on mere anecdote.  So we have had pieces about "miracle cures," medical testsdietsmultiple risk factors,

In this case, the study looked at 36 subjects, 18 of whom have autism.  If other researchers replicate the study -- a big if -- perhaps the findings will hold up.  Perhaps they will not.  But it is extremely premature to speculate on changes in diagnostic procedure on this basis of this one article.