Autism is usually diagnosed when the child is 3 to 4 years old, but most parents sense that something is wrong much earlier. On average, parents start to worry about their child’s development by 18 months of age and voice some of their concerns to a doctor or another professional by age 2. Many physicians and professionals are hesitant to diagnose autism at very early ages. If the child is labeled with a problem too early, parents may reduce expectations for the child and restrict the child’s access to typical experiences and opportunities. Thus, professionals may take on a “wait and see” stance that delays diagnosis, and ultimately the commencement of intervention services. Although such concerns are valid, the benefits of early diagnosis vastly outweigh the risks. As many studies have now shown, early intervention is critical for the best outcome in children with autism, and many believe the earlier the better. Only with a diagnosis can parents begin to obtain necessary intervention services for their child. If you have concerns that a child may have autism, there are five big questions you can ask yourself.
1) Does the baby respond to his or her name when called by the caregiver? Typical babies are very responsive to the voices of familiar people, and often respond with smiles and looks within the first few months of life. They also respond to their own name by looking to the person who called them
2) Does the young child engage in “joint attention”? Typical towards the end of their first year, infants begin to shift their gaze from toys to people, follow other’s points, monitor the gaze of others, point to objects or events to share interest, and show toys to others.
3) Does the child imitate others? Typical infants can imitate body and facial movements. Another way an infant imitates is with common infant games such as pat-a-cake.
4) Does the child respond emotionally to others? Typical infants are aware of the emotions of others, They smile when others smile at them, or if an infants observe another child crying, they may cry themselves, or looked concerned.
5) Does the baby engage in pretend play? Typically pretend play doesn’t begin until the end of the first year. Their first actions may involve pretending to feed themselves, their mother or a doll, brush the doll’s hair, or wipe the doll’s nose.