OBJECTIVES: We compared sex-stratified developmental and temperamental profiles at 18 months in children screening negative for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) on the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) but later receiving diagnoses of ASD (false-negative group) versus those without later ASD diagnoses (true-negative group).
METHODS: We included 68 197 screen-negative cases from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (49.1% girls). Children were screened by using the 6 critical items of the M-CHAT at 18 months. Groups were compared on domains of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire and the Emotionality Activity Sociability Temperament Survey.
RESULTS: Despite passing M-CHAT screening at 18 months, children in the false-negative group exhibited delays in social, communication, and motor skills compared with the true-negative group. Differences were more pronounced in girls. However, with regard to shyness, boys in the false-negative group were rated as more shy than their true-negative counterparts, but girls in the false-negative group were rated as less shy than their counterparts in the true-negative group.
CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study to reveal that children who pass M-CHAT screening at 18 months and are later diagnosed with ASD exhibit delays in core social and communication areas as well as fine motor skills at 18 months. Differences appeared to be more pronounced in girls. With these findings, we underscore the need to enhance the understanding of early markers of ASD in boys and girls, as well as factors affecting parental report on early delays and abnormalities, to improve the sensitivity of screening instruments.