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'Early Beginnings' Program Seeks To Spot Signs Of Autism In Toddlers

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A new program aims to spot signs of autism earlier than ever in Minnesota children.

The nonprofit Fraser started a program this year called "Early Beginnings." The goal is to catch the signs early enough to make a big difference.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates 1 in 68 children in the United States has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism is a developmental disability that impacts a person's social skills and ability to communicate.

Maria Rodriguez saw her daughter Isabella's social and verbal skills were at a standstill around 5-months-old.

"We would try to make her laugh with peek-a-boo or different sounds, and she wouldn't have any reaction," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez brought her daughter to Fraser's 12-week Early Beginnings program.

There, mental health professionals like Sarah Wise give parents tools to better communicate with their little ones.

"We saw a high need to have a service for kids that are really young," Wise said.

The new program focuses on children as young as 12 months old and works with them even before they are given any formal diagnosis.

"We are really looking to put them on a different trajectory," Wise said.

Rodriguez says the program has been amazing.

"With their help it was like 'OK, she is feeling this way, so I should do A, B or C,'" he said.

Now laughing and engaging with others, 2-and-a-half-year-old Isabella is still too young for a diagnosis, but her quality of life is improving.

"At this point, the research shows autism is a life-long disorder, but we are really hoping to minimize a lot of the symptoms," Wise said.

"I know it is going to be with ups and downs, but we can do it," Rodriguez said.

Fraser is accepting new families into this program.

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