Is It Autism? First Signs & Important Treatments

Autism & Early Screening

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all kids be screened at 18 months and at 24 months. But some kids show autistic signs as early as 9 months.

If you're concerned about your baby's development, discuss it with your doctor immediately and ask to set up an early evaluation. Don't wait. There's a small window before age 4 or 5 when a child's brain is still developing. During this time, early interventions can really make a difference in teaching kids how to communicate, connect and play with others, and reduce eccentric behaviors marking them as autistic.

Very early signs of trouble include:

  • Not smiling or responding to his name
  • Not pointing at things, not interacting or trying to share experiences with you

Later red flags include:

  • Not cooing, babbling, or making gestures by 12 months
  • Not speaking any words by 16 months
  • Not speaking any words by 16 months
  • Not understanding feelings
  • Losing language or skills at any time
  • Playing inappropriately with toys, like making the same movement over and over
  • Focusing on your mouth versus your eyes when you're talking
  • Repetitive behaviors such as spinning, rocking, and hand slapping

If your pediatrician brushes your concerns aside, get another opinion or two. That's what Janel Schwartz, of Atlanta, did when her doctor said her daughter was fine. "He told me I was being neurotic," she says. "But I worried that she wasn't talking like other kids do at age 2." A year later, after seeing several specialists, Perri was diagnosed as autistic.

There's an important lesson here: if you feel something's not right, as much as you want to hear that nothing's wrong, insist on getting an autism screening as soon as possible. Even so, if your pediatrician says your child needs further evaluation, that doesn't necessarily mean your child is autistic. "There are a lot of false positives," says Wayne Fisher, PhD, an autism expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha. "About half of the kids referred to us for autism aren't autistic and instead have a different condition such as ADHD."

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