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The Importance of Early Identification

“Most kids learn how to talk eventually, he’s just on his own schedule.”

“Give her some time, she doesn’t have to play with toys if she doesn’t want to.”

“Every child is different.  Just because his sister was pointing at airplanes doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with him if he doesn’t notice them.”

Although these comments may be based on experience with typically developing children, this advice may cause more harm than good.  For children with autism, early intervention is key to long-term success.  When we take a “wait and see” approach, valuable time that could be spent in therapy is lost for good.

“He’s on his own schedule.” Some children enter kindergarten with language skills similar to their peers, though they were late talkers, speaking their first word at age 2 or later and quickly acquiring language afterward.  For others, a delayed first word can lead to a late two-word combination and an even more delayed three-word phrase.  Some children do not develop oral language without specific intervention.  Speech delay can occur on its own or along with other developmental delays.

“She doesn’t have to play with toys.”  Restricted interests is one of the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder.  If your young child has no interest in toys, or plays with toys in a non-functional way, such as spinning the wheels of a car while holding it in the air, this may be cause for concern.  In ABA sessions, children learn how to play with toys appropriately, which can lead to increased opportunities for social interaction with typical peers.

“Every child is different.” While there is a range of ages in which children point to an object, this important skill should be established by 18 months.  Noticing an airplane is my favorite example of joint attention.  Before he turns 1, the child hears the airplane, looks up, and sees it.  Then, he points at it and looks at his caregiver.  The caregiver says, “airplane! There’s an airplane!”  Over time, the child will start to say “airplane!” when he sees one and the caregiver will talk about the airplane.  Joint attention is necessary for conversation skills.  Imagine how difficult it would be to have a conversation about something if you didn’t give the other person a clue as to what you were talking about!

The “wait and see” approach delays intervention that the child may need in order to successfully navigate through the world.  Therapy before kindergarten can give the child with autism the extra boost they need to enter the school environment with typical peers.  Without early intervention, the child has to make up for lost ground, learning the language, self-help, and play skills that typically developing children learn as toddlers or preschoolers.

Many pediatricians offer the M-CHAT as a screener for autism.  M-CHAT stands for Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers.  Autism Speaks offers an online version of the screener here. Don’t wait and see! If your child is delayed in language skills, functional play, or joint attention, complete the screener today.

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