How Early Can Autism Be Diagnosed?

February 07, 2017

How early is too early to detect autism? The answer to that question is changing every day due to new and better methods of screening for signs and symptoms. By reviewing early home videos of children later diagnosed with autism and monitoring the progress of children with siblings on the spectrum, researchers have been able to identify warning signs in infants as young as 3-9 months old. Some at-risk factors for this age include:

  • Low attentiveness and visual tracking
  • Delayed or no joint attention (following the direction of another person’s gaze or point)
  • Minimal or no eye contact
  • Delayed or no social referencing (looking toward an adult for reassurance or approval)
  • No vocal imitation
  • Fewer smiles than other infants
  • High fussiness
  • Problematic attachment (either too attached or not attached to a caregiver)
  • Low activity levels
  • Frequent gaze away from someone else’s eyes

Why is early detection so important? Early detection and diagnosis of autism leads to early intervention. The earlier children with autism begin treatment (ABA, speech, OT), the more likely they are to achieve better outcomes. Some doctors prefer to use the “wait and see” method before diagnosing a child with autism, but this often means a potential for the loss of several years of critical instruction time. The hesitation to diagnose is understandable as parents often worry the label of “autism” will never go away. In the long run, however, it may prove more beneficial for a child to grow up with a label he or she no longer needs than to miss out on important learning opportunities. Children with autism often have to “catch up” to their typically developing peers. For example, a nonverbal four-year-old with autism will have further to go to “catch up” to typically developing peers than a nonverbal two-year-old with autism would.


The Toddler Achievement Program (TAP) at BCOTB aims to bridge the gap as early as possible by providing a nurturing, individually designed, and comprehensive program for toddlers to develop vital language, social, and adaptive skills within the context of play to help children meet critical developmental milestones. If you are interested in learning more about how ABA therapy can help your child meet critical milestones, please call us at (813) 814-2000 to schedule a complimentary meet and greet.

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