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Early Diagnosis is Crucial

separator The sooner a child receives a diagnosis of autism, the sooner treatment can begin. Experts agree that early treatment can make a big difference in terms of the progress a child will make and long-term quality of life of the child.

Parents play the most important role in detecting the signs of autism early. As soon as you think something may be going on with your child, talk to your pediatrician. It’s likely that only you, the parent, can pick up on the warning signs that something just isn’t right. Here are some things to look for:

  • By age 1, your child does not babble, point or make other common gestures
  • By age 16 months, your child does not speak one word
  • By age 2, your child does not combine any words
  • Your child does not respond to his or her name
  • Your child seems to be losing language skills

Other indicators include:

  • Not making eye contact
  • Not playing with toys, or playing with them differently than other children do
  • Lining up toys or other objects
  • Not smiling
  • Being attached to a specific object or toy (washing machines, for example, can become objects of fascination for some autistic children)
  • Seeming to be hard of hearing at times

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one third of children who are diagnosed with autism seemed to have been developing normally as babies and then began to regress, losing their language skills and experiencing profound behavior changes. This is what has led some people to believe that vaccinations cause the disorder, because the changes often coincide with the child’s immunizations. Most researchers, however, believe that this convergence is purely coincidental.

Getting the diagnosis
Initially, your pediatrician should perform a thorough evaluation of your child to rule out any other health conditions that could be producing the symptoms. Your pediatrician may also use one or more screening instruments to help determine whether it’s likely that your child has autism. If there is nothing that rules autism out, the next step is to have your child evaluated by a multidisciplinary team consisting of a psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist, speech therapist or any other professional who specializes in diagnosing autism in children. Autism is not a diagnosis to take lightly, which is why it’s important to have this type of comprehensive evaluation.

As soon as you and your child’s evaluators feel certain that autism is present, it’s time to get started with treatment.

The National Institute of Mental Health; The New York Times, Science Times Section, “Lifting the Veils of Autism, One by One,” 24 February 2004;
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