Autism evaluations for young children can be performed as early as 12 months of age. Testing and diagnosis can occur very early and assists in getting children onto a path of supports and services that will have a comprehensive effect on their development by the age of six. It is imperative that young children presenting with delays in communication be tested as early as possible, when brain plasticity is most pronounced. Early diagnosis is important so that treatment can happen very early. For young children, this means the skills needed to maximize their learning and potential are worked on immediately. Early treatment serves to suppress the effects of autism spectrum disorder and when we engage children in these supports in their early years, we support their learning and development. Young children should be able to use 16 different gestures by 16 months of age and have a minimum of 50 words that they use meaningfully by 24 months of age.
The wait-and-see approach to assessing a child’s developmental delays is never the answer, as the best predictor of developmental outcomes is early identification and treatment. Young children who are presenting with only a speech and language delay will use other compensatory strategies to supplement for their lack of spoken words. They will sustain their eye gaze with others, use gestures, and employ a variety of other communicative strategies in an attempt to engage in a back-and-forth interaction with other family members. Social communication involves not just spoken words, but sustained eye contact, gestures such as pointing or waving, and an interest in sharing toys with caregivers. Young children will stare at others’ faces to read their emotions and gauge their reactions to things in the environment. They will laugh during play and then look over to see who is watching. This is called ‘shared enjoyment’.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s social communication skills, do not wait to have your child tested by a qualified developmental psychologist. Comprehensive testing often opens many doors for young children and can greatly promote their developmental progress.