As a parent, we want to do best by our children, to ensure they are happy, healthy and thriving. All children develop at different stages, therefore, it can be difficult to know when to be concerned if your child is not meeting their developmental milestones. Noticing that your child is showing signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be unnerving and you may feel uncertain about the future. There is an abundance of information (both helpful and unhelpful) out there about ASD. A quick Google search will have you sifting through thousands of different websites telling you what signs to look out for and the different interventions that exist. It can be incredibly overwhelming trawling through information with websites often professing to be the most effective and evidence-based approach.
So, you think your child might be showing some signs of developmental delay or ASD. What should you do? The best piece of advice we can give is to get the ball rolling by following our simple three step plan for parents.
3 Steps for Parents Who See Signs of Autism
Try a screening tool
ASDetect ASDetect is an Autism screening App put together by the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University in Australia. ASDetect is designed to assess the likelihood of ASD for children between 11 and 30 months. The App guides parents/caregivers through age appropriate assessments of social attention and communication and provides an on-screen result of either ‘low’ or ‘high’ likelihood of ASD in addition to a comprehensive formal assessment results email, which you can take to your family doctor.
16 by 16TM by First Words Project Between 9 and 16 months, children learn a range of key communication and action skills needed to develop more complex language, play and imagination. 16 by 16 TM by the First Words Project provides you with examples of gestures and actions with objects your child should develop between 9 and 16 months and can help you to identify developmental delays.
The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) The M-CHAT is a validated screening tool for toddlers aged 16 to 30 months. The M-CHAT assess the risk of ASD who may benefit from a professional autism assessment. You can complete the test online or download a PDF version. If you visit your GP with concerns regarding your child’s development, they may complete the M-CHAT with you.
Get a Diagnostic Assessment
Completing any of the above screening tools may help you identify if your child is at risk of ASD. Scoring as “likely” or “high risk” does not necessarily mean your child has ASD, however it highlights the need for a professional to have a closer look. The best way to go about this is to make an appointment to see your GP. If you have completed any of the above screening tools, take them with you. Your GP may want to rule out any other possibilities such as hearing difficulties. If your GP is concerned, they will make a referral for your child to have a multidisciplinary diagnostic assessment. Waitlists for diagnostic assessments can be months or years, therefore, even if you’re unsure, it is better to make an appointment now as you can always cancel closer to the time if things improve. You can also have a private diagnostic assessment completed which can often reduce the waiting time.
Begin Intervention As Soon As Possible
There is absolutely no doubt that the earlier we can identify the signs of autism and provide intervention, the more likely that child is go on to do whatever they want and lead an independent life. Early intervention starts as early as two years of age. During these early years, a child’s brain is still developing. The brain’s plasticity in these early years means that interventions are more effective and result in long-lasting change. Research shows that the sooner intervention is started, the larger the long-term improvements will be. Research also suggests that children who start early intervention sooner are likely to need intervention for a shorter period of time. Recent guidelines recommend starting early intervention as soon as autism (ASD) is suspected.
A diagnosis or suspicion of ASD can be terrifying as a parent, however early intervention can play a major role in ensuring that someone with autism spectrum disorder goes on to develop the essential skills necessary to lead a meaningful life.