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New Screening Test for Autism Provides Earlier Detection in Toddlers

  • Dr. Roula Choueiri unveils new and rapid intermediate-level screening test for earlier identification of autism
  • RITA-T tool significantly reduces wait time for young children awaiting autism evaluations by specialists, who are in short supply
  • RITA-T provides early diagnosis to allow earlier intervention, ultimately leading to improved long-term outcomes      

 The RITA-T (Rapid Interactive Screening Test for Autism in Toddlers) is a new interactive, play-based screening validated for toddlers 18 to 36 months old with concerns for an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

Roula Choueiri, MD, UMass Chan Medical School and UMass Children’s Medical Center, has developed the RITA-T, a new nonverbal, rapid and intermediate-level screening test for ASD that can be administered to children from any cultural background independent of language ability. Typically, the first step in autism screening is a parental questionnaire or interview. Prior to the availability of the RITA-T, a toddler (18-36 months) would be referred to a pediatric specialist for an autism diagnostic evaluation and getting an appointment could take many months. In Massachusetts, there are relatively better wait times than other parts of the U.S. 

The RITA-T has nine interactive “presses” (activities) which are designed to elicit an array of social responses. These early social skills may be delayed or even absent in a young child with ASD. Social behaviors include joint attention, reaction to another person’s emotions, eye contact and social connectedness. 

Through a project with Worcester’s largest early intervention program, close to 200 toddlers have been screened with the RITA-T and approximately 500 toddlers from other clinics and early childhood programs have been screened to date. Wait times to be formally evaluated have been reduced significantly to four-to-six weeks. The RITA-T has been tested in different clinical settings in the United States and Canada, where it is now being implemented. 

The RITA-T can be administered by early childhood providers and health care providers – professionals working with young children including teachers, childcare workers, pediatricians, nurses, family physicians, pediatric behavioral health professionals – streamlining access for those who need further evaluation. Training for the RITA-T is three hours. In addition to on-site training, online training and required testing materials will be available in spring 2018. 

To learn more about the RITA-T, visit RITA-T