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Early Concerns of Parents of Children With Autistic and Nonautistic Disorders

Coonrod, Elaine E. MS; Stone, Wendy L. PhD


The purpose of this study was to extend previous research on the early concerns of parents of children with autism by (a) obtaining information from parents of very young children who have not yet received a diagnosis; (b) including a developmentally matched comparison sample; and (c) querying about first concerns as well as current concerns and behaviors. During their child's initial diagnostic evaluation, parents of 44 two-year-old children (22 with autism, 22 with developmental delay) responded to open-ended questions regarding their early concerns about their child's development as well as specific questions about social-communicative behaviors. The age of children when parents first became concerned and the specific nature of first concerns were similar for both groups, with the most frequent concerns related to children's language development. When asked specific questions about current social and communicative behaviors, parents of children with autism reported more deficits in both areas than did parents in the comparison group. These results suggest that specific questions about children's social-communicative behaviors may have more utility than open-ended questions in identifying young children who are at risk for an autism diagnosis.

Vanderbilt University (Ms Coonrod), and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Dr Stone), Nashville, Tenn.

Corresponding author: Wendy L. Stone, PhD, Vanderbilt Center for Child Development, 426 Medical Center S, 2100 Pierce Ave, Nashville, TN 37232 (e-mail:

This research was supported in part by a grant (R29 MH50620) from the National Institute of Mental Health and funding from the Vanderbilt University Research Council. We are extremely grateful to the parents and children who generously donated their time to this project. We acknowledge the valuable contributions of many people to this research: Susan Hepburn, Opal Ousley, and Kerry Hogan, for their contributions to the assessment process; Kimberly Dennis and Christia Brown, for their assistance with data management; and Teresa Ulman, for her assistance with reliability coding.

©2004Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.