A GENETIC test to predict a child's risk of developing autism could be available within five years after a medical breakthrough by Melbourne researchers.
It's the first known blood test to indicate the likelihood of a child developing the disorder with approximately 70 per cent accuracy.
University of Melbourne researchers say it could allow doctors to detect and treat the disorder earlier.
Clinical neuropsychologist Dr Renee Testa said early intervention reduced the burden of the condition on children who can struggle to communicate, learn and interact with others.
Lead researcher Stan Skafidas said the study of more than 7000 US children found 237 genetic markers for autism spectrum disorder in 146 genes. Researchers found that while some of the markers increased the risk of ASD, many protected a person from developing it.
The test involved measuring both the genetic markers that protect and contribute to the risk of ASD.
A higher score increased the individual's risk of developing the disorder.
Prof Skafidas said the discovery was exciting. The current accuracy rate meant a third of children would be incorrectly diagnosed.
He said the test was not designed for prenatal screening, but rather to help identify at-risk babies and young children.
The study involved children of central European decent, so further research was required to determine whether the test was effective in other population groups.
Amaze (formerly Autism Victoria) acting CEO Diana Heggie said the research was brilliant because it brought us one step closer to understanding the genetic links of autism and developing a genetic test for the disorder.
"Currently it takes a long time for a lot of children to be diagnosed with ASD as there's no medical screening or diagnostic tests," she said.
"It's purely based on behavioural patterns.
"It's a very promising piece of research."
They will now trial the accuracy of the test by monitoring children who are not yet diagnosed.
The research was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
To these very clever men and women working tirelessly on this research, I say thank you. Maybe one day there will be a cure.