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Autism: Early Intervention is Key

Author: Janice Keener, PsyD
Published Date: Monday, November 07, 2016

As your child’s primary care provider, your pediatrician plays an important role in the early recognition of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be screened for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays at well-child check-ups between 18 and 24 months of age.

Children diagnosed with ASD can fall anywhere along the continuum of the spectrum from less severe symptom presentation to more severe symptom presentation. The most obvious signs of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.

Children with ASD may have difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, demonstrate delays in social reciprocity, and engage in repetitive behaviors. Each child with autism is unique. The number and severity of symptoms may vary greatly from child to child.

Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty initiating, sustaining, and integrating eye contact with verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Limited response to facial expressions (i.e., not understanding others’ emotions)
  • Does not point to objects or events around him
  • May appear to not demonstrate concern or empathy for others
  • Does not say single words by 16 months or no babbling by 12 months
  • Does not respond to his name, but often responds to other sounds
  • Resists cuddling
  • Difficulty with change in routines, order and rituals
  • Repeated body movements, such as flapping hands, finger flicking or rocking

Diagnosing Autism

There are two levels of screening for autism. The first level assesses the following developmental milestones:

  • 12 months – babbling, pointing, social interactions or gesturing
  • 18 months – single words spoken
  • 24 months – two-word spontaneous expressions

If your child is not meeting these milestones, more in-depth evaluation will likely be recommended.

Individualized treatment planning is important as children with autism vary greatly in their behavioral needs. Intensive behavior therapy during early childhood and home-based approaches that involve parents produce the best results. Medication can also be helpful in treating some behavior symptoms of autism.

If you’re concerned that your child may have autism, talk to your pediatrician. Don’t wait. Early intervention has been shown to improve outcomes for children with autism.


WVEC Interview with Dr. Janice Keener

About Janice Keener, PsyD

Janice Keener, PsyD, has extensive training in the assessment of autism spectrum disorder. She obtained her research reliability in the administration of Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Second Edition from the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain in 2014. Her research and clinical interests include pediatric health psychology, early childhood assessment, consultation and liaison, and autism spectrum disorder.