Is it really important to identify autism spectrum disorders (ASD) early on in your child’s development? As a parent, you may be concerned that your child is too young to get an accurate diagnosis. Maybe you think that even if your child has ASD, therapies or interventions won’t be helpful until they are older. Or maybe you just want to “wait and see,” because someone told you that you were being overly concerned about behaviors or delays and that your child will “catch up” on their own.
Being unsure of your child’s diagnosis can be frustrating and scary. You want to do what is best for your child but might not want to give them a “label” so early. However, the diagnosis of ASD is increasing in the United States. That means it is more important than ever to identify ASD early. Fortunately, our ability to identify autism has improved, treatment options have grown, and a diagnosis (whatever it may be) ultimately empowers the family.
Our Ability to Identify Autism Has Improved
In the past, doctors and parents were hesitant to seek an autism diagnosis until a child was older. Accurate diagnosis is important, so it used to make sense to wait. However, our assessment techniques have improved, making that no longer the case.
Since ASD identification started growing, developing better diagnostic tools became a priority- which led to earlier accurate identification of autism.
ASD can be identified with high accuracy around two years old. Depending on symptoms, even some children as young as 18 months old can be diagnosed. That’s because developmental milestones around communication and social engagement start being met at that year-and-a-half mark.
Some symptoms of ASD that may be seen at this time are:
- Having speech delays
- Being less likely to engage in social play
- Being less likely to make eye contact
- Not pointing or using gestures
- Not having social play
- Playing with parts of toys rather than the whole toy as intended
Treatment Options for Autism Have Grown
Not only has autism identification improved, but treatment options have also improved as well. While options used to be limited, now there are many local and national providers that offer therapies.
Therapies typically address the core symptoms of autism, as well as work on increasing the independence of children with autism. Studies show that the best outcomes for young children occur when they participate in therapy for at least 30 hours per week.
What’s more, children who start treatment younger show greater gains and are more likely to be able to eventually be placed in a typical classroom setting. That’s why a variety of therapies are now offered even to the youngest children.
A Diagnosis Empowers the Family
While previously the “wait and see” approach was preferred by pediatricians and parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends going ahead with screening and diagnostic evaluations as soon as possible.
Even if you aren’t positive that the signs you are seeing point to autism, the evaluation process will still give you more knowledge about your child. Any parent that has concerns about their child’s development should consider an evaluation.
The diagnostic process may determine your child does not have autism. But it may reveal your child has other needs, like the need for speech therapy. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by what might be ahead of you, whether it’s ASD or another special healthcare need.
However, once you get the information and evaluations you need, and your therapies are in place, you’ll learn to discern what most benefits your child. You’ll start creating a new rhythm and routine that fosters growth. Having an official diagnosis will empower and equip you to advocate for your child!
If you think your young child may be on the autism spectrum, ask your pediatrician for the Modified Autism Checklist for Toddlers (M-CHAT) autism screener. This is a good first step that will help you determine if a follow up is needed.