Why Is Early Identification of Autism Good for Young Children?

by Karen Doyle

Autism is a complex disorder of brain development. Children with autism have trouble interacting with others, trouble with verbal and non-verbal communication, and engage in repetitive behaviors. The severity of autism can vary, so professionals often refer to autism as being an autism spectrum disorder or ASD. According to Autism Speaks, one in every 88 children has autism, with most obvious signs appear when a child is 2 to 3 years old.

What Professionals Look For

Some characteristics of autism appear in infants and toddlers. Most pediatricians will ask questions at the 18-month or 2-year checkup to determine if the child shows signs of ASD. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the pediatrician should ask questions like if such your child points to things and bring you things to show you, and does he answer when you call his name. Other questions the doctor should ask include if your child moves his body, arms, hands or fingers repetitively or flaps his arms, or if your child has lost any language or social skills he previously had.

Benefits of Early Detection

Early detection provides answers to parents and lets parents learn how autism will affect their child, so that they can find help for their child. Early detection also means that children will begin therapy earlier. Children with autism learn best when taught in specific ways. They will have the most success with direct, structured and repetitive instruction, and they require many hours per week of instruction, delivered one-on-one or in very small groups. Several studies, including Smith & Lovaas, (1993) show that children who receive intensive specialized treatment early have better outcomes.

Better Outcomes

study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health studied 48 children, 18 to 30 months old who had an autism spectrum disorder. Half of the children received the Early Start Denver Model intervention, including 15 hours per week with trained therapists and another 16 hours with their parents, who had been trained to provide treatment. The other children received less intensive therapy. Two years later, the children in the Denver Model program had higher IQs and increased language use. They also improved dramatically in self-help and social skills, while the other children improved much more slowly. Seven of the children who received intensive treatment and one child who received less intensive therapy improved to the point where their diagnoses were changed to milder diagnoses.

Heightened Awareness

With the increase in autism diagnoses, parents and pediatricians are more aware than ever of the signs of autism. Professionals may screen children at higher risk because of family history earlier and more often. Organizations devoted to increasing awareness are helping families identify appropriate treatments and educational options. Autism remains a mystery, but early detection and intervention are helping families cope.

About the Author

Karen Doyle has been a writer since 1993, covering finance, business, marketing and parenting. Her work has been published in "Kidding Around" and "A Cup of Comfort." Doyle holds a bachelor's degree in marketing from Boston College.

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