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Autism: the first years. Early signs and symptoms from an ESSENCE perspective

Participants: Martina Barnevik Olsson, Lotta Höglund Carlsson, Elisabeth Fernell, MaiBritt Giacobini & Christopher Gillberg.

Background: The importance of a diagnosis for children with developmental deviation has increased in society. This means that many children in the ”grey area”; that is - children who do not quite meet diagnostic criteria - receive no support or interventions in spite of having great difficulties in various areas. The concept of ”ESSENCE” (Early Symptomatic Syndromes Eliciting Neuropsychiatric/Neurodevelopmental Clinical Examinations) highlights early deviations in the development of children (before the age of five) and is aimed at identification and follow-up of those affected. The follow-up is done based on persistent difficulties.

Method: Working with Habilitation Services in Stockholm, a child cohort made up of 208 preschoolers diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, were followed up over a period of two years. The follow-up was completed in 2010/2011. Another follow-up is ongoing, with psychologist and medical assessments, and focusing especially on those children with near average intellectual functioning (IK 70-84) and those who, at the previous follow-up, did not quite meet the criteria for ASD. Yet another study deals with self-regulation difficulties in children 0-2 years. Medical records provided by Child Health Centres (CHC) for the child cohort in question have been studied, alongside a control group.

Results: Some results have already been published (see references below). Further compilation is under way. Some of the results will form the basis of the dissertation studies of Martina Barnevik Olsson and Lotta Höglund Carlsson.


Barnevik Olsson, M., Höglund Carlsson, L., Westerlund, J., Gillberg, C., & Fernell, E. (2013). Autism before diagnosis: crying, feeding and sleeping problems in the first two years of life. Acta Paediatrica, 102, 635–639.

Höglund Carlsson, L., Norrelgen, F., Kjellmer, L., Westerlund, J., Gillberg, C., & Fernell, E. (2013). Coexisting disorders and problems in preschool children with autism spectrum disorders. The Scientific World Journal, 2013, 213979.


Fernell, E., Hedvall, Å., Westerlund, J., Höglund Carlsson, L., Eriksson, M., Barnevik Olsson, M., . . . Gillberg, C. (2011). Early intervention in 208 Swedish preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder. A prospective naturalistic study. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32, 2092-2101.

Klintwall, L., Holm, A., Eriksson, M., Carlsson, L.H., Olsson, M.B., Hedvall, Å., . . . Fernell, E. (2011). Sensory abnormalities in autism. A brief report. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32, 795-800.

Gillberg, C. (2010). The ESSENCE in child psychiatry: Early Symptomatic Syndromes Eliciting Neurodevelopmental Clinical Examinations. Research and Developmental Disabilities, 31, 1543-1551.

Fernell, E., Hedvall, Å., Norrelgen, F., Eriksson, M., Höglund-Carlsson, L., Barnevik-Olsson, M., . . . Gillberg, C. (2010). Developmental profiles in preschool children with autism spectrum disorders referred for intervention. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 31, 790-799.


Page Manager: Anna Spyrou|Last update: 9/17/2014

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