A screening test consisting of five “markers” is picking up autism in children as young as 12 months, with an 81 per cent accuracy rate.

A quick screening test developed by Melbourne researchers is helping detect autism in 12-month-old bubs with 81 per cent accuracy.

In 2006, researchers from La Trobe University developed a test consisting of five early signs or “markers” of autism to help pick up the condition in infants.

“We’ve known for a long time what types of behaviour to look for but my research has narrowed that down to five key early markers at 12, 18 and 24 months of age,” Dr Josie Barbaro of the University’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre told the Victorian Autism Conference in Melbourne on Thursday.

Dr Barbaro and her team trained 100 local community nurses across Melbourne in the use of the screening tool as part of routine health checks of children aged 12, 18 and 24 months.

The nurses then referred “at risk” babies to the University for further assessment.

More than 80 per cent of the babies referred had a confirmed diagnosis by two years of age.

“We have monitored over 30,000 children since 2006 and have been hugely successful with the results so far, with an 81 per cent accuracy rate.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong disability that affects one in 100 children in Australia.

People with ASD have problems with social and communication skills.

ASD usually manifests in the first year of life; with onset not later than three years.

“Red flag” markers for children at age 12 months are a lack of pointing, eye contact, waving bye bye, responding to their name and imitating others’ actions, said Dr Barbaro.

Two further early markers, at 18 and 24 months, are deficits in showing toys or objects to other people and in engaging in pretend play.

Autistic children greatly benefit from early behavioural intervention programs, Dr Barbaro said.

“We can and should be aware of the early signs of autism,” she said.

“It should be mandatory in any primary healthcare system, given the enormous potential to shift the developmental trajectories of these babies.”

The program is being extended to WA, NSW and Queensland as well as five other countries – China, Japan, South Korea, Bangladesh and Poland.