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Autism Awareness Month Aims To Get Children Diagnosed Earlier In Life

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Autism Awareness Month kicked off Monday and autism numbers are up. It's now diagnosed in one in 59 children in the United States. A new campaign that you'll be seeing this summer is aimed at getting children diagnosed earlier when they can get the most out of interventions.

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

"He was babbling, no words at all," Tanner's mother, Tianna Canady, said.

Troy 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 Autism Speaks is hoping to change.

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

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The organization is launching a new campaign, featuring Julia, the Sesame Street Muppet with autism, aiming to raise awareness and lower the age of diagnosis.

Goring also wants to reach Hispanic and African-American communities, where studies show children are diagnosed later.

"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.

Tanner started an early intervention program immediately after his diagnosis. His mom says it made a big difference.

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

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Research has shown that early intervention can improve an autistic child's overall development.

Autism can cause a wide range of mild-to-severe disabilities. It's often marked by issues with social interactions and communication.

Doctors say it can be tricky to diagnose early. Parents are advised to talk to their pediatrician if they suspect something isn't right with their toddlers.

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