April is National Autism Awareness Month

Autism spectrum disorder (also called ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause major social, communication and behavior challenges. Some people with ASD have strong skills in learning, thinking and solving problems, while others have severe challenges with these skills. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives, but others need less help.

Premature babies (babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) may be more likely than babies born full-term to have signs and symptoms of ASD.

How do you know if your child has autism spectrum disorder?

ASD can be hard to diagnose. There’s no medical test, like a blood test, to check for ASD. No two children with ASD have the exact same signs or symptoms. Health care providers diagnose ASD by looking at a child’s behavior and development.

Providers can sometimes detect ASD in a child younger than 18 months. By the time a child is 2 years old, a provider may give an ASD diagnosis. But many children don’t get a final diagnosis until they’re much older. This delay means children with ASD may not get the early help they need.

Children with ASD usually show signs or symptoms when they’re 12 to 24 months old, but some may have them earlier or later. Some children with ASD develop normally until they’re around 18 to 24 months old, but then they stop gaining new skills or lose the skills they once had. This is called regression.

Babies may show signs of ASD before their first birthday if they have severe developmental delays. Developmental delays are when a child doesn’t reach developmental milestones when expected. A developmental milestone is a skill or activity that most children can do at a certain age, like sitting, walking, talking.

Tell your baby’s health care provider if your baby isn’t meeting her milestones. Sometimes a healthy baby may fall behind in some areas or move ahead in others. But babies who don’t meet these milestones need their development checked more closely by a provider:

  • Babbling by 12 months
  • Making gestures (like pointing or waving bye-bye) by 12 months
  • Using single words by 16 months
  • Using two-word phrases by 24 months
  • Losing language or social skills at any age

Most children with ASD don’t have problems with early developmental milestones, like crawling and walking on time. But they may have delays in other areas, like communication, social and behavior skills. If your child shows signs or symptoms of ASD, it doesn’t always mean he has ASD. Children with ASD may have different signs and symptoms, and they may not have all the signs and symptoms.

What are early intervention services?

It’s really important to learn the signs and symptoms of ASD and get help for your child right away if you think he has ASD. Getting early intervention services as soon as possible can help improve your child’s development. These services can help children from birth through 3 years old learn important skills. Services include therapy to help a child talk, walk, learn self-help skills and interact with others. Visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center to find your state’s contact information for early intervention services.

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