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Autism awareness: Screening for autism can begin as early as 16 months, experts say

Early diagnosis could help kids with autism

When Tanner Troy was missing developmental milestones as a toddler, his doctors recommended he be evaluated.

At an age when other children could talk, "He was babbling. There were no words at all," his mom, Tianna Canady, told CBS News.

Tanner was diagnosed with autism at 2 and a half years old. But not all children in the U.S. are diagnosed as early as they can be. That's something the advocacy organization Autism Speaks is hoping to change, because early intervention can help improve children's lives.

"Screening can be done as early as 16 to 24 months," said Lisa Goring, the Chief Strategic Initiatives and Innovation Officer at Autism Speaks. "Autism can be diagnosed as early as 2 years, yet in the United States, the average age of diagnosis is 5 years old."

April 1 kicks off Autism Awareness Month. The developmental disorder may affect as many as 1 in 59 children in the United States.

Autism Speaks' new campaign, which features Julia, the Sesame Street muppet with autism, hopes to lower the age of the diagnosis. The organization especially wants the message to reach Hispanic and African American communities, where studies show children are diagnosed at later ages.

"We want to make sure that parents are empowered with the information that they need, so all children are screened, and if necessary, get the diagnosis and supports that they may need," Goring said.

Signs of autism in young children may include:

  • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Persistent preference for solitude
  • Difficulty understanding other people's feelings
  • Delayed language development
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases
  • Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Very limited interests
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as flapping, rocking, or spinning
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors

Tanner started an early intervention program immediately after his diagnosis. His mom believes it has made all the difference.

"He is more social. He is able to do a lot of things on his own. If he didn't have that, he might be 5 years old today with no words," Canady said.

She says parents know their children and should reach out for help if they have any concerns about development.