Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Importance of Early Diagnosis for Autism

by Lauren King, Psy.D.

1 in 110 children have Autism based on a report in December of 2009 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)  Currently there is not a single known cause for Autism, although many theories are being investigated. Additionally, there is not a “cure” for Autism at the present time. Early intervention and diagnosis are the best tools at our disposal. Research reveals repeatedly that early treatment for Autism makes the biggest difference. When therapy is introduced at an early age, due to the brain’s plasticity (ability to change), the child is likely to progress more than if their therapy starts at a later age. 

Obviously, no matter what the age, children can still change and make progress. The issue is really that we now know the earlier the therapy, the more likely it is to have a large impact on the child’s life. For example, research shows that children who are provided intervention before 3-years-old are impacted more than children provided therapy after 5-years-old (Harris & Handleman, 2000). Research also consistently shows that diagnosis of Autism prior to 24 months is not as reliable as it is after 24 months because it can be easily confused with other developmental problems (Lord, 1995). However, some children with more clear markers are diagnosed at earlier ages.  

In order to access early intervention for children with Autism, a prompt diagnosis is needed. If you are concerned about Autism Spectrum behaviors in your child, the first step is a thorough assessment.  Oftentimes, the signposts of Autism are the lack of typically developing behaviors such as coordinating attention between people and objects, sharing emotions with others, following the point or gaze of another person, playing symbolically, using appropriate gestures, and having appropriate language development (Woods & Wetherby, 2003). However, these behaviors can also be signals of other developmental problems besides Autism, which is why it is important to have a professional in the field of Autism conduct a full assessment.  The assessment should include recommendations on where and how to access early intervention for your child. At southeast Psych, we perform such assessments, and we are passionate about getting families in touch with the services and support they need following their testing.  

Dr. Lauren King is a therapist at Southeast Psych who specializes in working with children with autism spectrum disorders and their families.  She also has a specialty in the treatment of eating disorders.  You can contact her directly at  


Harris, S.L., & Handleman, J.S. (2000). Age and IQ at intake as predictors of placement for young children with autism: A four to six year follow-up. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 30, 137-143.
Lord, C. (1995). Follow-up of two-year-olds referred for possible autism. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 36, 1365-1382.
Woods, J. J., & Wetherby, A. M. (2003). Early identification of and intervention for infants and toddlers who are at risk for autism spectrum disorder. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34, 180-193.