Why Early Autism Diagnosis Is Important (It May Not Be What You Think)

This post is part of a sponsored partnership with ABA Pathways. We at ABQ Mom choose to work with businesses that bring value to our readers.

We recognize that there is discussion within the autism community regarding person-first versus identify-first language. It’s important to note that there is no consensus on this topic. Some people in the autism community prefer identity-first language while others prefer person-first language—including many parents of children with autism. For the purpose of this article, we have chosen to use a mix of person-first and identity-first language, recognizing that language evolves and that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

April is Autism Acceptance Month. But just because April is over doesn’t mean we should stop the support, learning, advocacy, and acceptance.

Have you noticed the shift in recent years from Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month? I’ve noticed it too, so I did a little digging. And now I’m starting to understand why we’re moving from simply awareness to acceptance.

It might seem like semantics. But to many in the autism community, the change means so much more. Perhaps our world would be a better place if it catered to all neurotypes, not only to neurotypical people.

The recognition and inclusion of this larger discussion is one of the things I appreciated most when I sat down with one of the clinicians from ABA Pathways, a service provider here in Albuquerque that provides one-on-one applied behavior analysis therapy for autistic children.

At ABA Pathways, their goal is to help children with autism succeed in the school environment and make and maintain meaningful relationships. Families who have a child that receives early intervention often see their child’s personality develop and grow.

At ABA Pathways, their goal is not to “fix” an autistic child. Sometimes parents are concerned that therapy might even change their child’s personality. But a service provider can’t do that, and a good one would never want to.

In the past, the goal of services for individuals with autism may have been to help them develop the same skills as their neurotypical peers. However, ABA Pathways recognizes every child as unique and desires to help each child flourish as an individual. The goal is to help each learner communicate effectively to get their needs met and build relationships so they can feel more connected with their peers, family, and community.

It’s also important to know that the family and autistic individual (when he or she is old enough) are included in all decisions and the forming of an individualized, multi-disciplinary treatment plan. ABA Pathways prevents negative experiences by providing choice, input, and family involvement.

Why Early Autism Diagnosis Is Important: ABQ Pathways

The Importance of Early Autism Diagnosis

Early diagnosis of autism is so important because the earlier a child begins to receive services, the more opportunity this child will have to learn skills and social behavior connections.

Children with autism will find more success in the classroom and in friendships if they have a foundation of social communication which can include sharing, turn-taking, waiting, self-regulation, advocating for themselves or others, communication with peers and adults, and other social skills. Research shows that having autism identified and treated before age 3 results in more favorable outcomes. So the earlier a child starts, the better.

Possible Signs of Autism

  • By 6 months: no social smiles or other warm, joyful expressions directed at people, limited or no eye contact
  • By 9 months: no sharing of vocal sounds, smiles, or other non-verbal communication
  • By 12 months: no babbling, no use of gestures to communicate (e.g. pointing, reaching, waving etc.), no response to name when called
  • By 16 months: no words
  • By 24 months: no meaningful, two-word phrases
  • Any loss of previously acquired speech, babbling, or social skills​
  • Avoids eye contact and prefers to be alone
  • Struggles with understanding other people’s feelings
  • Difficulty understanding body language, gestures, facial expressions, social innuendos
  • Trouble forming and maintaining relationships
  • Has delayed language development or remains non-verbal
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Tendency to interpret information too literally
  • Obsession with rigid routines and sameness
  • Has highly restricted interests
  • Performs repetitive behaviors such as flapping, rocking, or spinning
  • Has unusual and often intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights, and/or colors

What To Do If You Suspect Your Child May Have Autism

First of all, don’t wait. Start the process even if you only have suspicions because early intervention is so important.

Secondly, talk to your pediatrician. There are multiple assessments your pediatrician can use to help determine if your child needs a Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation or CDE.  (i.e. the M-Chat, CARS, and GARS.) If the M-chat results point to autism, your pediatrician can give an autism diagnosis which opens up treatment options for your child while you wait for your Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation (usually through the CDD at UNM) which will give you a definitive yes or no for autism. The waitlist for the CDE is usually about 2 years long which is why it is important that you get the diagnosis from your pediatrician so you can start services while you wait for the CDE.  Be your child’s advocate and insist on being heard and on taking action on your child’s behalf.

Thirdly, contact a Provider like ABA Pathways to begin services right away. Sometimes children who get early therapy and support need less or no support as they get older.

This article is brought to you by ABA Pathways, a service provider with a team committed to helping families find the optimal treatment program to meet each individual’s needs.

ABA Pathways focuses on autistic children. They provide center-based services, home-based services, and behavioral consultations.

They take NM Medicaid as well as private insurance.

Contact them today at 505-366-0560 or [email protected].