The big autism news, for those not obsessed with the vaccine-autism legal proceedings, is the revelation that scientists, such as Dr. Rebecca Landa, director of Kennedy Krieger's Center for Autism and Related Disorders, now feel confident that they can diagnose autism as early as 12 months in about half of the cases of the disorder. "Giving out the new behavioral signs of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), scientist now say that about half of all cases of the disorder may be diagnosable at about one year of age, the earliest the disorder has ever been diagnosed." This is definitely good news and promises earlier opportunity for Applied Behavior Analysis and any other evidence based interventions that may be developed in future. In looking at this information it should be remembered that the key players in providing the behavioral and other information will be parents of autistic children.
My son, Conor was diagnosed a little over 9 years ago at the age of 2. At that time, in this part of the world, very few children were being diagnosed with autism by the age of 2. The reason my son was diagnosed so young was simple. We observed what were concerns for us in his development, although we would not have used a term like developmental delays at that time. Odd behavior such as almost continuous fascination with colored toy basketballs, holding one in his hand for hours, even after falling asleep, roused our curiousity at an early age. So too did Conor's full pressing of his face into the side of an indoor swing that we had set up for his older brother initially and put up again for him. When he and his brother were given M & M candies for a treat Conor would not eat his but chose to line them up for lengthy periods of time. On occasion going out doors would provoke a crying or screaming reaction for as much as an hour.
There were other matters that caused concern including a lack of responsiveness to baby words and games like peek a boo. The biggest though was the failure to develop any regular speech. The earliest word that I remember Conor saying was "circle" but he said it only once and did not use words like mommy,daddy etc as an infant or toddler until long after two years of age. Long after two years of age Conor would grunt, scream or hit to communicate needs.
When we first took Conor to a doctor because of our concern over his lack of speech we were told that he was a boy and speech often comes later for boys. We were also told that it was not unusual for a second child in birth order to develop more slowly. We did not accept these explanations and pressed for referral to a pediatrician which turned out to be a younger doctor versed in autism disorders. After eliminating physical possibilities such as hearing, and observation of Conor's behavior and other testing Conor was diagnosed just after his second birthday. But the process of getting to that diagnosis had taken several months. That early diagnosis, for the era, would not have occurred without our input - and our persistence in the face of professional dismissal of our concerns.