Early Identification Process

Ilia Walsh, M.S.Ed, MBA

Ilia Walsh, M.S.Ed, MBA

About the Author

Ilia Walsh is the director of Individual and Family Services at AANE and the creator of the Autism In Real Life Podcast. Ilia is a mom of two young adults, one of which is Autistic. She has over 25 years of experience with families, children, and adults through training, education, and support. Ilia is also a registered yoga teacher and also enjoys painting, dancing, and traveling.

The early identification process for young children involves recognizing potential signs and behaviors that could indicate that a child is Autistic during the early developmental stages. Early identification has advantages because it allows for timely intervention and support for Autistic children. Here’s a general overview of the early identification process:

Developmental Milestones: Familiarize yourself with typical developmental milestones for young children, such as social interaction, communication, play, and motor skills. This understanding will help you recognize areas of delay or difference.

Awareness of Autism Indicators: Be aware of common early signs that might indicate Autistic traits. While these signs can vary from child to child, some examples include:

  • Limited or absent eye contact
  • Delayed speech or language development
  • Repetitive behaviors or movements (e.g., hand-flapping, rocking)
  • Difficulty with social interaction and playing with peers
  • Resistance to changes in routine
  • Sensory sensitivities (e.g., strong reactions to certain sounds or textures)
  • Scripting, or repeating phrases or sentences the child has heard instead of creating new ones.
  • Playing with toys in a non-typical fashion, like lining up toys, rather than engaging in imaginative play.

Regular Developmental Monitoring: Parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals should regularly monitor a child’s development. Tracking milestones and behaviors over time can help identify any patterns that might indicate autism.

Use of Developmental Screening Tools: Pediatricians and other healthcare providers often use standardized developmental screening tools during regular check-ups. These tools help identify potential developmental delays. Examples include the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) and the ASQ (Ages and Stages Questionnaire).

Communication Concerns: Pay attention to the child’s communication skills. A lack of verbal communication by a certain age, limited gestures, and difficulty with understanding or using language may be an indicator of autism.

Social Interaction Observation: Observe the child’s interactions with others. Difficulties in engaging in reciprocal social interactions, making eye contact, or responding to social cues may be an autism indicator.

Consultation with Professionals: If you have concerns about your child’s development, consult with a pediatrician, child psychologist, developmental specialist, or other qualified professionals experienced in autism diagnosis and assessment who may recommend a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.

Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation: This evaluation can, but not always, involve a multidisciplinary team, including a pediatrician, neurologist, or psychologist and/or a speech therapist, occupational therapist or other relevant professionals. It may include interviews, observations, and standardized assessments to determine whether the child meets the criteria for an autism diagnosis.

Early Intervention Services: If the child is diagnosed with autism, early intervention services should be initiated as soon as possible as these services are designed to address the child’s specific needs and developmental challenges up to 36 months of age. (Read more about Early Intervention Services in the United States.)

Every child is unique, and developmental trajectories can vary widely. Some children might show signs of autism early, while others might exhibit signs later on. It’s important to trust your instincts as a parent or caregiver. If you have concerns about your child’s development, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals experienced in autism can help ensure that appropriate support is provided. Early identification and intervention can make a significant difference in the child’s development and quality of life.

For more information on Early Identification go to the CDC Learn the Signs, Act Early website. 

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