Skip to content

    Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

    Font Size

    Autism Awareness Efforts Boost Early Diagnoses

    Study Shows Increased Enrollment in Early-Intervention Programs for Autistic Children

    Expansion of Autism Symptom List continued...

    “Because ASD now includes only a few symptoms of classic autism, children who previously were not diagnosed with ASD are now being identified,” says Stephen Camarata, PhD, an autism specialist and professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

    Camarata says “late talking,” or talking after the age of 2, which affects about 10% of all toddlers, is an example.

    “If late talking is now viewed as diagnostic for putting a child on ‘the autism spectrum,’ then all late talkers will be identified as autistic,” Camarata says.

    “This is important because, if there is nothing else wrong -- no other symptoms of autism or other disability such as cognitive impairment -- approximately 60%-70% of the late talkers catch up by the time they reach 3 years old,” he tells WebMD.

    Tracking Early Autism Diagnoses

    For the study, researchers cross-referenced data on births in Massachusetts between 2001 and 2005 with records on children enrolled in the state’s early-intervention programs for autism spectrum disorders before their third birthday.

    The study included 385,631 children without documented autism spectrum disorders and 3,013 enrolled in early-intervention programs.

    To be referred to an early-intervention program, children had to have failed a screening test of 23 questions called the modified checklist of autism in toddlers. The test asked questions about a child’s ability to interact with others, pretend during play, walk, speak, and hear.

    Information on parental characteristics like age, education level, and race, were derived from birth certificates.

    Researchers also included information about whether the children were born prematurely or at low birth weights or whether they were single births or multiples.

    Autism Incidence: Boys vs. Girls

    The incidence of autism spectrum disorders in children less than 3 years of age increased from 56 per 10,000 in children born in 2001 to 93 per 10,000 in children born in 2005.

    There was a greater increase in boys than in girls.

    Among boys, the early autism diagnoses increased 70% between children born in 2001 and those born in 2005. They went up 39% in girls.

    Today on WebMD

    girl at window
    Symptoms within the first 2 years of a child’s life.
    boy playing a violin
    Where do they fall on the spectrum?
    Mother and daughter indoors playing
    Play therapy may undo the disorder in at-risk babies.
    preschool age girl sitting at desk
    What causes this rare condition?
    High Functioning Autism And Asperge Syndrome
    Gluten Free Diet Slideshow
    Mother and daughter indoors playing
    man on bicycle
    girl at window
    Mother hugging teenage son
    Understanding Rett Syndrome
    Home Care Tips

    WebMD Special Sections