Infants and Toddlers

The first three years of life are crucial to a child’s development. Children make several visits to their pediatrician during this period for well-baby/child check-ups, vaccinations and general developmental screenings. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that the 18- and 24-month well check-ups also include developmental screening for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) for all children, as the first signs of autism can sometimes be detected as early as 18 months. If symptoms warrant and/or the child has a sibling with ASD, further screenings should be conducted. Click here to learn more about early symptoms. Click here for more in-depth information on early signs, including developmental milestones parents should look for, starting at 3 months.

Early identification of an ASD is critical as it means early intervention services can begin, which can make a huge impact on a child’s behavior, functioning and future well-being. Without early intervention, the symptoms of autism can worsen, resulting in more costly treatment over the course of a lifetime. The Autism Society estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for an individual with autism ranges from $3.5-$5 million, and annual costs for autism in the U.S. total about $126 billion. However, these costs can be reduced by two-thirds through early diagnosis and intervention.

Unfortunately, many state and federal services aimed at early intervention are being cut. These drastic cuts mean that the wait for services may exceed the window of opportunity for the best treatment outcomes.

Currently, the average age of diganosis in the United States is between 3 and 6 years of age, though some children are being diagnosed as young as 2. It is important for parents to discuss the diagnosis with their medical practitioner(s) and devise a treatment plan that best addresses the needs of both the child and family. The Autism Society encourages applied research to identify the early intervention approaches that are most effective for those with autism. We also encourage the sharing of research advances across states so all people with autism can benefit.