For a child with autism, an early diagnosis is one of the most important steps to help them achieve their brightest possible future. That’s why, even in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s vital for families to look out for the signs of autism in young children and seek diagnosis and intervention.
While one in 54 children is diagnosed with autism in the U.S. today, that number is significantly higher among white children than in Hispanic children, indicating potential missed or delayed diagnoses, which may lead to a later age of diagnosis for Hispanic children. That’s why groups like Autism Speaks are providing information in both English and Spanish to help parents learn about autism and its early signs — and where to get help — even during these challenging times.
Early indicators of autism can include little or no functional words, sensitivity to sound or light, or delays in speech and developmental milestones. Parents who think they may see signs in their child are encouraged to visit ScreenForAutism.org or DeteccionDeAutismo.org to take the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) screening questionnaire. This first step can help indicate if further evaluation may be needed. Parents can also contact their child’s doctor and ask about autism at their next in-person or telehealth visit.
One Family’s Story
Berlina Felipe’s son Alex was diagnosed with autism after she noticed delays in his speech at a young age. Since English was Felipe’s second language, a local university’s center for autism and neurodevelopmental disorders offered the Felipe family several important autism resources and materials translated into Spanish to help them navigate the autism journey.
“I am extremely grateful for Alex’s diagnosis, especially so early on in his life. It made such a difference that I was able to seek resources and get Alex the services and support he needed starting with speech, occupational and behavioral therapies. It meant that we had what we needed as a family to prepare him for his everyday life,” she added.
Thanks to Alex’s early diagnosis, his family can help support his healthy development, improve his communication skills and work to reduce his challenging behaviors in whatever circumstances life might throw their way — which has become more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Coronavirus has impacted my family in many ways,” Felipe explains. “Alex does not cope well with change, so being quarantined was a challenge on its own. It took us a while before we could find a good routine for him to adapt to. We found a good rhythm for virtual learning and Alex ended up getting three awards on his last trimester of school.”
Felipe credits an early autism diagnosis for making this unique period of their lives less challenging.
Guidelines for Early Detection
Because autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends every child have an autism screening at their 18- and 24-month well-child visits. But according to a 2019 survey by the Ad Council and Autism Speaks, only 35 percent of parents say their child has been screened for autism. Most children still aren’t diagnosed until the age of four or five, and even later for low-income and minority children.
If you see potential signs of autism in your child, Autism Speaks offers resources for parents as they move along each step of the diagnosis journey. You can reach the Autism Response Team at 1-888-AUTISM2 (1-888-288-4762), en español at 1-888-772-9050 or via email at [email protected] for more information.