The first signs of autism can be observed in toddlers, which will help for the earlier diagnosis of disorders in the spectrum.
According to the National Autism Association, there may be several challenges in terms of early identification. Since autism is a range of disorders, the symptoms could vary from mild to quite severe. Some children will show no signs within the one to three years age range, after which they’ll regress. Alternatively, autism symptoms could be present very early in life.
The NAA advises parents to rely on the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers in order to make the identification easier. Here’s what the checklist is and how it can be used to classify the symptoms.
The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers
This is a two-stage personal screening tool that is highly effective for the assessment of autism spectrum disorders. The checklist is suitable for children in the 16 to 30-month age range.
Per the American Academy of Pediatricians, children should receive autism-specific assessment at two landmark ages; 18 and 24 months. Broader screening should occur at nine, 18 and 24 months. This screening is performed by a physician and the results can help to determine whether an autism specter disorder is present.
A parent can do the modified checklist assessment on their own by answering several questions. The checklist is available online and it adresses on the attentiveness of the child, their response to stimuli, their motor skills and the way in which a child communicates.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism Specter Disorders
A few signs and symptoms will be much easier to spot than others. Some of the earliest signs of autism include lack of response to his or her own name, lack of interest in physical or audible stimuli, aversion of eye contact, preference in spending time alone, uneasiness with minor changes, spinning in circles, resisting physical contact, poor safety awareness and delayed speech.
Children with autism could also have odd interests/behaviors, the same play routine every single time, they could line up toys in a specific order, express phobias at an early age or have an obsessive interest in a toy or an object (or even a specific part of a toy).
Finally, there may be a couple of additional non-specific symptoms. When combined with signs already mentioned in the guide, these could be indicative of autism. A few of the most common non-specific symptoms include restlessness, impulsivity, a very short attention span, no fear or self-preservation instinct, self-injury, emotional meltdowns and unusual sleeping patterns.
Evidence of Effectiveness
Is screening at an early age effective for identifying autism specter disorders? One clinical study on the topic was presented in the Archives of General Psychiatry journal.
Researchers worked with 107 children considered at a high risk of autism due to the fact that they had an already diagnosed sibling. The children underwent assessment at the age of 14, 18, 24 and 36 months. Researchers focused on play behaviors and communication.
In the end of the experiment, 30 of the children were diagnosed with autism. In 50 percent of them, symptoms appeared at the first screening (14 months). The other 50 percent of the kids were diagnosed later on.
Currently, there isn’t a standardized set of criteria for the diagnosis of autism specter disorders at the age of one. Still, researchers are working on earlier detection that can help for getting to address developmental problems in a more adequate way.