Early detection of autism offers the most significant opportunity for early intervention, especially when the child’s brain is still highly plastic. Even though autistic symptoms may not show up until the second or third year of life, behavioral manifestations of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) usually don’t appear until a child is at least two years of age. Even at that early stage, many children with ASDs can still learn and adapt to their surroundings. The main difference between young children with ASDs and those without is that at later stages, the necessary developmental milestones for healthy development are missed by those with ASDs.
For any medical condition, a child must be evaluated thoroughly by his pediatrician to establish any neurological signals or biological risks to the child’s health. In this case, the pediatrician would perform neurological tests, conduct blood tests and imaging studies. Psychological evaluations will include specific concerns about language, socialization, imaginative play, eye contact, and cognitive skills. All of these critical areas will be used to detect early signs of autism. If these initial screenings or evaluations uncover nothing noteworthy, the pediatrician will perform a thorough neurological exam and, if the results are positive, additional testing will be done.
The second most important area of concern in detecting autism is the development of the child’s social and communication skills. It has been researched that children with autism tend to have a behavior pattern consistent with autism. If detected early enough, these children can be effectively treated and have a high survival rate. The challenge is to identify behaviors and actions at an earlier stage in the child’s development and to be able to implement them in daily interactions.
Compared to typically developing children, babies with ASDs have shown to exhibit significantly different patterns of behavior. For example, they tend to be extremely active or too passive, or in a mixed state. They also show significant variation in their temperaments, with some being extremely responsive to one family member and too apathetic towards another. For many years, parents have had difficulty gauging these varying traits and abilities of infants with ASDs. They have relied on clinical indicators such as behavior rating scales to provide them with a rudimentary understanding of their child’s mental health.
New diagnostic criteria for diagnosing autism emerged in the last decade. Additionally, new treatments are available. Further studies are taking place every day to extend infants’ lives with ASDs, extending beyond the typical infant period of two to three years. As new treatments and diagnostic paradigms become available, the world of autism research expands rapidly, which has resulted in a considerable increase in children who suffer from ASDs and their families trying to find effective ways to deal with this condition.
There are three separate phases of ASDs, with each stage having differing symptoms and requiring a different course of treatment. By the age of six months, most children with ASDs can function at a basic level in most situations. Children typically begin to exhibit symptoms of regression or self-reflection around the age of twelve to eighteen months. Finally, by the age of eighteen to twenty-four months, most individuals with ASDs are experiencing some degree of speech and language development, typically in line with typical development.
The problem with traditional clinical methods of diagnosing autism is that they require a high level of precision in judging symptoms, so most individuals with ASDs do not get analyzed using standard procedures. It is also common for professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating autism to fail to notice the signs and symptoms of ASDs, particularly in high-risk children. As a result, routine procedures, such as testing for repetitive gaze avoidance patterns, are routinely skipped altogether. When such testing is missed, specialists cannot correctly distinguish between an ASD and a developmental delay, leading to incorrect diagnoses of ASDs. Such tests are necessary for the early detection of autism in high-risk children.
Having said all of this, one needs to remember that “high risk” denotes a higher risk of having ASDs. In many ways, high risk means that there is an inability to fulfill the various basic requirements for a healthy life regarding nutrition, hygiene, and education. As all this may sound like a rather simplistic description of autism, but it goes far beyond that. Therefore, it is crucial for any professional involved in the early diagnosis of autism to consider all potential symptoms. Suppose you feel that your child may have autism. In that case, it is vital to first rule out any other possible condition before deciding to work on a more detailed evaluation and diagnostic protocol.