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Autism Spotted at Age 14 Months

Early Autism Detection Widens Window for Effective Treatment

Parent: Child Seemed Normal continued...

Knowing Dylan was at increased risk of autism, the Mt. Airy, Md., resident enrolled him in Landa's study when he was 13 months old. His first evaluation indicated he had autism. By age 18 months, he was diagnosed.

"Dylan was very different from Dominic -- his signs of autism were very, very subtle," Maloni tells WebMD. "If I hadn't had him in a study where they watched him for hours on end, they would not have picked up on it. I was able to get early intervention for him right away."

Autism clearly has a strong genetic component. But genes aren't destiny, Landa says.

"Your brain development isn't just engineered by your genetics. Your experience plays a role in your outcome," Landa says. "So if a toddler isn't attending to social cues and develops these patterns of behavior that make it hard to engage with others, the child isn't getting learning opportunities. It becomes a vicious cycle. We want to disrupt this cycle, to teach children how to engage with objects in diverse ways. We teach them to have joint interactions with people that are rewarding."

It isn't easy. Maloni says she tries to engage her sons in social play "every waking moment." But the results are more than rewarding.

"Normal kids, when a parent walks out the door, the child is screaming, and when they come back they are glad to see them. But our children didn't even notice we were gone," Maloni says. "Now we walk through the door and they run over to us. They are happy when we are there and know when we are not there. It is very gratifying."

Spotting at-Risk Kids

Landa says every parent with a family history of autism -- or who suspects that a child may not be developing normally -- should have that child screened for autism by age 18 months if not sooner.

"Parents usually just look at whether their child walks on time and talks on time," she says. "They might not pay attention to the kinds of objects a child gravitates toward, or lack of diversity in play, or failure of a child to give and show objects. But if you specifically ask parents about certain behaviors, it can be a wake up call for the parents. That is why I advocate screening."

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