Know the signs of autism: An early diagnosis can make a lifetime of difference

Autism spectrum disorder can be reliably diagnosed as early as 18 months, but the average age it happens is 5 years. Advocates believe it’s critical for children to get early intervention.

“It will help improve their speech and language; it will improve their social functioning [and] give them daily living skills assistance; they will experience growth in their cognitive functioning; it will help them get ready for school,” said Pamela Dixon, the director of clinical services and inclusion at Autism Speaks.

Dixon, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, encourages people on the spectrum to seek services for themselves, and for parents to seek services for their child.

“You as a parent will also have access to strategies and skills that you can use to support what’s going on in intervention,” she said. “You will have the knowledge that you need to be able to support your child so they can reach their fullest potential.”

Signs a child might need to be screened for autism include:

  • Limited or no eye contact,
  • Delayed or loss of language skills,
  • A lack of response to his or her name,
  • A lack of interest in other kids or caregivers,
  • A tendency to get upset by minor changes in routine,
  • Repetitive behaviors such as flapping, rocking or spinning

“If you’re a parent, and you are seeing things that are concerning to you that you’re saying to yourself ‘Something’s not quite right here,’ but you’re hesitant to seek help, I would just encourage you to push past that hesitancy, push past that fear,” Dixon said.

People with autism can live full, independent, fulfilling lives sharing their gifts with their communities.

“One of the things that is a sadness for me is that we will not be able to benefit from all the gifts and talents of people on the autism spectrum, because of a lack of awareness and we’re not doing things to promote development,” Dixon said.

You can find developmental and behavioral milestones for a child’s early months and early years on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Caregivers can take a two-minute autism screening questionnaire in English or Spanish.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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