Autistic children have a different chemical fingerprint in their urine than children without autism, which could allow a simple urine test to diagnose the condition, according to research published Friday by U.K. and Australian scientists.

The factors that lead to autism are generally present at birth, but the disorder is difficult to diagnose and often confused with other behavior-related problems.

Children in the U.K. are currently assessed for autism through a lengthy process that includes social interaction, communication and imaginative skills testing. It is difficult to establish a firm diagnosis.

The so-called urinary metabolic fingerprint identified in the study, published Friday in the Journal of Proteome Research, could form the basis of a urine test to help diagnose autism earlier — thus greatly improving the progress of autistic children.

It would enable autistic children to receive assistance earlier in their development than is currently available.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of South Australia, in Adelaide, found there were three different groups with a distinct chemical fingerprint: non-autistic children with autistic siblings, children without any autistic siblings and autistic children.

People with autism typically suffer from gastrointestinal problems stemming from a different makeup of bacteria in the gut.

The scientists suggested that this new understanding of the bacterial makeup could help develop treatments to tackle autistic people's gastrointestinal problems.

"We hope our findings might be the first step towards creating a simple urine test to diagnose autism at a really young age, although this may be a long way off. Such a test could take years to develop,” said Professor Jeremy Nicholson, head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London.

"We know that giving therapy to children with autism when they are very young can make a huge difference to their progress. A urine test might enable professionals to quickly identify children with autism and help them early on," he said.

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