Have you been concerned that your toddler isn’t meeting some of the expected developmental milestones? Even the best pediatricians sometimes miss the early signs of autism. Parents who look for signs of autism early get the advantage of early treatment, which leads to improved outcomes for children who are on the autism spectrum. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for autism at 18 and 24 months. Parents should look for warning signs of autism early to set the course of the best interventions. And given that the rates of autism are currently at 1 in 68 children, this is an important screener.
The National Autism Association defines autism as a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors.
Red Flags for Early Signs of Autism
Autism Speaks recommends that parents be on the look-out for these red-flags for autism in children starting at the age of 12 months:
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
- Limited to no sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
- Lack of babbling by 12 months
- Few or no gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age (Autism Speaks, 2017)
Many children aren’t diagnosed with autism until the age of three. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians perform an autism screening at the 18 and 24-month well-being check-ups. Ask your child’s pediatrician about the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT-R), which is a 2-stage screening tool to assess the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The M-CHAT-R is a simple parent questionnaire that screens for early signs of autism and developmental delays.
UC San Diego School of Medicine explains why early treatment for autism is effective. The part of a child’s brain that controls complex social behaviors develops most rapidly between the ages of one to three. Interventions for autism that starts later than the age three may not be quite as effective. This is because the child’s brain will need to reestablish pathways that the brain has already formed.
An autism screening may not show any signs of autism. But, if it does, you’ll be on the right track to treatment at the earliest opportunity.