Early signs of autism in children and how to get help

March 25, 2021

​Since 1970, April has been observed as National Autism Awareness Month, a time to educate and build awareness about this complex developmental disability.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States. Since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began tracking the prevalence of autism among children in 2000, the numbers have consistently gone up, from 1 in 150 to 1 in 54, as reported in March 2020.

Along with increased prevalence comes the need for greater acceptance. With this goal in mind, the Autism Society of America has designated April (widely known as Autism Awareness Month) as Autism Acceptance Month. The new terminology aims to promote inclusivity and encourage change through improved support and opportunities for those affected by autism.

Early intervention is key

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood. While there is no cure, early diagnosis is crucial for individuals to receive the support they need. With appropriate services, training, and information, children on the autism spectrum will grow, learn, and thrive.

According to the CDC, early signs of ASD may include but are not limited to

  • avoiding eye contact;
  • having little interest in other children or caregivers;
  • limited language (e.g., difficulty using words to communicate or having fewer words than peers); and
  • becoming upset by minor changes in routine.

The CDC also provides free resources to help families monitor developmental milestones and recognize signs of developmental concerns, including ASD.

If your child is not meeting the milestones for their age, or if you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, interacts, or moves, talk to your child's doctor about your concerns. If you or the doctor thinks there may be a delay, ask the doctor to refer you to a specialist who can do an in-depth evaluation of your child.

At the same time, you should also contact your state's early intervention program to request a free evaluation to see if your child is eligible for services. Children under age 3 who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for early intervention treatment even if the child has not been diagnosed with ASD. In addition, treatment for some symptoms, such as speech therapy for language delays, often can begin before a formal diagnosis is made.

Treatment and medical benefits

Treatment plans may include social skills training, applied behavior analysis (ABA), occupational and/or physical therapy, and sensory integration therapy depending on the child's individual needs. It's important to know that there is no single treatment that will be effective for everyone with ASD, just as there is no one symptom that identifies those on the spectrum.

If you have medical coverage through the Board of Pensions, all three options — PPO, EPO, and HDHP — cover medically necessary habilitative services and specialized therapies, including speech, occupational, and vocational therapies (subject to plan limits), for children with ASD. In addition, all three options cover ABA therapy for eligible children. See Guide to Your Healthcare Benefits for more information.

Source: cdc.gov