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New Parents’ Guide to Autism

How can I tell if my child is reaching their developmental milestones? What do I do if they have autism? Many parents struggle with these questions. Our guide below shows you what signs to look for and what you can do to support your child’s development.

Does my child have autism?

Although a qualified practitioner is needed to diagnose autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you can learn to recognize the early signs of autism. Most children with ASD will begin exhibiting behaviors associated with autism between the ages of 12 and 24 months. However, some children may show characteristics of autism during infancy.

Early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Autism is a “spectrum” and not all children will show the same signs and symptoms. Below are some common signs, but all children – with and without autism – are different! Please consult with a trained clinician for a formal assessment.

2 – 6 months: lack of eye contact with caregiver, limited facial expressions of joy. Learn more.

6 – 9 months: No back-and-forth response to sounds, gestures or facial expressions. Learn more.

9 – 12 months: Does not respond to their name, little to no babbling, limited gestures, lack of interest in simple games such as peekaboo. Learn more.

12 – 18 months: No meaningful speech, does not attempt to communicate through gesturing or facial expression, no response to name. Learn more.

24 months: Does not play pretend, very upset by small changes in routine, limited language, difficulty imitating simple gestures. Learn more.

What do I do if I think my child has ASD?

If you think your child has ASD, seek a formal diagnosis as soon as possible. While you wait for a diagnostic evaluation, you can also begin Early Intervention services if your child is 3 years old or younger.

Start early intervention

Early intervention for developmental delays includes speech therapy, occupational therapy and developmental therapy. Here in Illinois, state-funded early intervention services are available for children age 3 and younger who are at risk for a developmental disability. If you are located in another state, check what services may be available.

Although a child with autism will require more extensive intervention, these early intervention services will be helpful while you seek a formal diagnosis and explore therapy options.

Trust your gut

Your pediatrician should screen for ASD at your child’s 18- and 24-month well-child visits, but ask sooner if you suspect autism.

Screening is not a diagnosis, and not always accurate. You can seek a diagnostic evaluation even if screening does not indicate ASD. You also do not need a referral from your pediatrician to obtain a diagnostic evaluation.

How can I make sure my child with autism enjoys the best life possible?

When it comes to autism treatment options, not all programs are created equal. Be wary of misinformation and choose a therapy program rooted in science. The sooner your child starts therapy, the better the potential outcomes.

Things to consider when choosing an autism therapy program

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is proven to be the most effective type of autism treatment available today.
  • Full-day, center-based ABA is the best option for developing communication, social skills and school readiness.
  • Look for an ABA therapy center that provides family training to help you maintain treatment at home.
  • Look for an ABA therapy center that can deliver the recommended hours of treatment. For a child under 6, research recommends 30-40 hours of therapy per week if autism is on the more severe side.
  • Look for a program that has a Behavior Health Centers of Excellence (BHCOE) Accreditation. This is a stamp of clinical excellence.
  • Look for a program that employs Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) rather than just behavioral therapists.
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