Autism: Getting an Early Diagnosis for Infants and Toddlers

On October 2009, the Center for Disease Control released a survey:

1 in 100 children age 8 and up are diagnosed with autism. This number is significantly higher than a 2007 study of 1 in 159 children.

But… your child is not at greater risk today. The numbers rose because doctors, parents and caregivers are getting better at spotting the disorder earlier.

Early diagnosis and intervention has proved vital to the future of autistic children according to a study by the University of Washington, AutismCenter in Seattle. Children who receive care as early as 18 months make huge strides in their behavior and social interaction.

Getting an Early Diagnosis

As with many childhood disorders, parents are the first to recognize there may be more to their child’s behavior than meets the eye.

Having a general understanding of Autism, knowing the age related signs and test available, and preparing a talk with your pediatrician will help you become a better advocate for your child’s care.

What is Autism?

Autism is part a group of developmental conditions originating in the brain. The group's category is called the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).

It’s most important to remember all the Autism disorders have a very broad range of presentation from mild to severe, depending on the individual child. This is where the word spectrum comes into play.

As a general rule, all of these children have difficulties with social interaction on some level starting at an early age.

Medical Diagnosis of Autism in Babies

Interviews with parents and caregivers of children diagnosed with an ASD revealed signs of autism were noticeable before 12 months of age.

In some cases the symptoms were so mild they were often dismissed by family and physicians.

Baby Basics: Common observations of parents and caregivers:

  • The child does not initiate eye contact often
  • The child does not track or show much interest in moving objects
  • The child failed to respond to being called their name

The problem with these early signs is they may have other causes such as, visual or hearing difficulties.

A physician would only have reason to suspect ASD at such a young age if the parents expressed a concern or the child has a sibling with the disorder.

Still, today’s physicians are more aware of autistic behavior. If you’re worried ask your pediatrician to take a closer look.

One Mom’s Miracle

Parents of children with autism are often left with a desperate search for answers.

This mom stopped questioning and took action to take her son back from this devastating disorder. Not all parents can make such a great commitment. She had to quit her job and spend no less than ten hours a day working with her son.

Still, her story gives hope. Her methods incorporated into intensive 1:1 intervention could save many children.

Watch a GMA video about Elizabeth Scott and her son.

(sorry about the long advertisement in the video. It comes with it:)

Read her book below.

Medical Diagnostic Test for Toddlers

At this age it is still necessary for parental and caregiver input to reach a proper diagnosis.

But… with the addition of the M-CHAT (Modified-Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) physicians can assess the child through a questionnaire that involves caregivers and the observations of the health care provider.

Beyond the M-CHAT some possible signs of ASD can be identified as:

Difficulties In Social Interaction

Along with the baby basics list, a child might have a lack of interest in other children. They can seem detached from family activity about the house.

These children also often lack separation anxiety or fear strangers.

Difficulties With Social Cues

An autistic child might tug at a parent's hand to bring them to a desired object rather than point.

They may rarely shake or nod their head to accompany speech. They also don’t try imitating behaviors of adults around them.

Delays In Speech

Some autistic children will babble the first year then stop. Their tone may be flat and robotic, and they’re often described as one way speakers... they talk "at" people, not with them.

Unusual Behaviors

Often ASD children are extra sensitive to touch, oral sensations, flavors, and odors. For instance: they might gag when smelling fresh fruit or reject touching finger paint.

Some children also are preoccupied by a single thing like crayons, and can't separate from them even at bedtime. They can also be very resistive to changes in the routine.

Healing: Dogs for Autism

Preparing to Talk to Your Pediatrician

The best way for parents to get an early diagnosis is to share their concerns with a pediatrician.

It is also vital for the parents to keep a record of their child's behavior that provides at least four basic things:

  • What behavior / behaviors do you notice?
  • When did you first notice the behavior?
  • What was happening when the behavior started?
  • How long did the behavior last?

These will help the physician build a clear picture of normal verses adverse behavior.


If little Johnny retreats to a corner on a visit to grandma's house after lunch and stays there until he needs his smelly diaper changed. This behavior doesn't mean Johnny’s avoiding contact. Some kids normally hide for bowel movements outside of their home environments.

The Colorful Spectrum of Autism

Two lesser known disorders of the Autism Spectrum include but are not limited to:

Asperger's Syndrome: where children can have some of the social difficulties of autism, but they lack a language deficit.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS): where children are recognized as having a developmental disorder that is not quite autistic in nature.

As a general rule all autistic children have difficulties with social interaction on some level starting at an early age.

Being Your Child's Advocate

Since ASDs are so broad it's possible to have a hit or miss diagnosis when looking for early signs. If you are unsatisfied with a diagnosis, get another opinion or ask again later when concerns arise as the child grows.

Also note that while social interaction is difficult for these children, they are still huggable and loveable, so don't fall into the myth they don't want or need contact.

If your child has autism:

Learn as much as you can about the condition because an educated caregiver can carry a much heavier load than someone with the burden of misconceptions.

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Comments 2 comments

AskAshlie3433 profile image

AskAshlie3433 5 years ago from WEST VIRGINIA

This is such a useful hub. It is sad, but it gives you signs of what to look for. Thank you for sharing. I hope this reaches those who need it. Best wishes.

Emilia Riera profile image

Emilia Riera 23 months ago from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Nice hub. My son, now 11, was diagnosed before the age of 2. I knew something was up by the time he was 6 months...but there was not as much autism awareness then, and it took another 16 months of investigation to get the diagnosis. Thankfully, people are learning to watch from birth, now. My son is a tribute to early intervention - he no longer displays the stereotypical behaviors most associate with autism, and although I see the remnants of those behaviors, others don't recognize them. Early speech therapy, OT, ABA, PRT and Floortime therapies have helped him cope successfully in most situations. Yay for early intervention!

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