How Early Is Early?
For decades, it was thought that ASD couldn't be diagnosed and treated until a child was about 3. Today, that's considered late in the game. New screening tools are able in many cases to identify children at risk at 18 months of age and even younger.
That said, it's important to recognize that ASD presents itself in many ways, at many different points. And parents are often the first to sense trouble -- even if they can't put their finger on what it might be. Baltimore mom Laura Maguire says she knew just weeks after she brought her newborn daughter home from the hospital that something wasn't right. "Charlotte screamed uncontrollably, as if she was in terrible pain. At first we thought it was colic, but it never went away," says Maguire.
For First Signs-founder Wiseman, it was as if her daughter slowly began to slip away as she neared her first birthday. "Sarah stopped babbling and making eye contact. She retreated into her own world and just never started speaking," she says.
Both of these families voice a complaint shared by many parents of children with ASD: Their pediatrician not only failed to identify ASD's warning signs, but they also minimized or dismissed their concerns. "I kept talking about the fact that Sarah was not speaking. She didn't seem to respond to her name, either. But the doctor would say, 'Oh, she's just a little late. She'll grow out of it,'" says Wiseman, who believes her doctor had the best of intentions but was not adequately educated about developmental delays and their warning signs.
Well-baby visits, says Wiseman, are also a difficult time for a doctor to check a child's development because appointments are often rushed and children don't generally behave as they typically might at home or somewhere else that is comfortable and familiar.