A new study from the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center may change the paradigm of diagnosis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests kids be first screened for autism at 18 months.
The study started screening kids at their year well baby checkup, six months earlier than recommended. That's resulted in diagnoses and treatment years earlier.
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Aiden DeCarlo was diagnosed with autism at 19-months in the early intervention study. He's come to the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, or SARRC, for nearly a year.
"Big things that we see are in socialization. He enjoys playing around with friends. He really enjoys coming to school," said Aiden's dad, Alex DeCarlo.
Before he came here, there were tantrums because he couldn't communicate. In fact, his mom says he was communicating at a five-month-old's level.
"He's now at between two and two and a half," Amber Snowden, Aiden's Mom said. "In nine months, he's gained a year and a half."
SARRC research director Christopher J Smith, PhD launched the study five years ago. More than 100 pediatricians used a standardized questionnaire in well baby checkups at 12, 18, and 24 months. Diagnosis age plummeted from 55 months to an average of 22.
"What we want to do is not wait until we see absolutely clear impairments," Smith said. "We want to act on those early warning signs and get parents to seek an evaluation sooner so they can get into treatment sooner."
Families were referred to SARRC if screenings showed delays.
Aiden was getting help more than two years before he might have been diagnosed outside the study.
"We took all of that lost time that happens as a result of the standard procedure of screening and diagnosing and gave that back to the family that they could better spend on intervention and helping their child move forward," Smith explained.
"To see him in the not even a year that he's already here at SARRC, how much he's progressed is just completely amazing," Amber shared.
The study ended in June, but the early screenings and diagnoses will continue thanks to funding from Arizona Complete Health.
Smith is working to expand use of the standardized questionnaire and to train more pediatricians and diagnosticians, so families don't have to wait so long for diagnosis and intervention.
He says early intervention is the single best way to help kids with autism reach their potential.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Ken Ashe, Editor.