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Autism: Earlier Detection -- and Treatment

A new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): All kids should be formally screened for autism at their 18- and 24-month checkups --whether or not they have symptoms. Why? For the 1 in 150 kids with an autism spectrum disorder, early social and communication warning signs can be easily missed by parents and doctors, which delays vital treatment. Other new AAP recommendations that you can expect from your doctor:

A discussion of your family's history of autism. It's especially important to keep an eye on little kids who have older siblings with the disorder.

Checking up on milestones at well visits, starting in your baby's first year. These should include social and emotional checkpoints ("Does your six-month-old smile back at you?"), along with the more traditional questions on motor skills, language, and problem solving. Your doctor should also ask if you have any concerns about your child's development and behavior.

Formal screenings for a variety of developmental delays --not just autism-related ones --at your child's 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month visits, whether or not there are concerns.

Early action. Your doctor should get your child help right away if there are developmental concerns or if an autism screening is positive, rather than making you wait for an official diagnosis (which can take months to years). Babies and children under 3 should be referred to a state-sponsored early intervention program; older kids can get help through special ed.

On Read about a new DVD that can help autistic kids learn to read emotions


The biggest autism red flags for babies

3 months: Your baby doesn't smile at you when you smile or talk
8 months: She doesn't follow your gaze when you look away
10 to 12 months: She doesn't look at what you're pointing at and then look back at you with a reaction