How Early Detection of Autism Can Give Children a Brighter Outlook
While there are many aspects of autism that still aren’t fully understood in the healthcare community, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: early intervention is crucial.
What is Autism?
“Autism is a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms,” HelpGuide.org explains. “Autism spectrum disorder appears in infancy and early childhood, causing delays in many basic areas of development, such as learning to talk, play, and interact with others.”
Autism is often difficult to detect, as it takes on a number of signs, symptoms, and abnormalities. For a parent who doesn’t know what to look for, it can take some time before concerns are identified. Some children have mild impairments, while others face significant obstacles. But if autism is present, every child tends to have a problem, to some degree, in one or more of the following three areas:
- Issues with verbal and/or non-verbal communication
- Problems relating to the world around them
- Issues with thinking and behaving flexibly
Because so many of the symptoms of autism can be written off as normal aspects of early childhood development, it’s easy for parents to ignore the symptoms until a child reaches school age. (And it’s often at this point that a teacher or educator will suggest the child sees a specialist.) Unfortunately, letting autism go undetected for this long can negatively impact a child’s cognitive growth and development over the long haul.
The Importance of Early Intervention
“There are currently no physical or biochemical tests for identifying autism. Instead, detailed observations of a child for indications of the disorder are required,” Intelligent Video Solutions explains. “Delayed or inaccurate diagnoses are common problems — it has been demonstrated that behavioral autism treatments are more effective when started at ages two or three.”
It’s for this reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all 18-to-24-month-old children be screened for autism. At this age, treatment is considered highly effective, and those with mild impairments can go on to live largely normal lives. Even for those with significant obstacles, more promising outcomes are expected.
How to Detect Autism Earlier
As a parent, there are several proactive steps you can take to increase your chances of detecting autism earlier in a child. Here are some things to be aware of:
- Know the Telltale Signs and Symptoms
If you know what to look for, it’s actually not extremely difficult to recognize autism. (Though it’s easier to rule out autism than to diagnose it.) Common signs and symptoms for babies include:
- By three months of age, an infant should be able to grin back at you when you smile. It’s a natural reflex. When coupled with other symptoms, no social smiling could be an indicator.
- Babies are created for eye contact – particularly with parents. If you find it difficult to make eye contact with your infant, this could be a symptom.
- Babies love to babble and make noises with their tongues and lips. A lack of verbal noises is something to take note of.
For older children in the 18-24-month range, there are additional signs and symptoms to be cognizant of. They include:
- By 18 months of age, children should be talking or attempting to say words. A child with delayed speech skills will point, gesture, or rely on facial expressions to compensate for a lack of verbal communication.
- In the 18-24-month range, a child with autism may limit speech to parroting basic statements.
- If you notice a lack of emotion – or the wrong display of emotions based on circumstances – this could be a sign of autism spectrum disorder.
Again, it’s important not to overanalyze your child’s development. The presence of one symptom in isolation usually isn’t a big deal. It’s when you notice multiple signs that you should begin paying attention.
- Leverage the Latest Technology
There are plenty of advanced technologies on the market that allow parents to track and gauge the early childhood development of their kids. In fact, one app is being used to actually pinpoint signs of autism so that parents can be more proactive about seeking treatment.
- Schedule Regular Checkups
Make sure you’re following doctor recommended guidelines and scheduling regular checkups with your child’s pediatrician. Your pediatrician is educated in identifying signs of autism and can help you find treatment if needed.
Embracing a Brighter Future
An autism diagnosis doesn’t have to throw your world into disarray. With early detection, many infants and children with autism spectrum disorders are enjoying successful outcomes and better long-term cognitive development.
For parents of young children, it’s important to be aware of the signs and systems of autism so that early intervention can make a difference.