The importance of early diagnosis
Studies indicate that the earlier a child with autism commences therapy, the more effective that therapy is likely to be. It appears that there is a window of opportunity between the ages of 2 and 5, during which a child’s brain is sufficiently adaptable that many of the deficits of autism can be reduced or corrected by intensive therapy. Once past this age, however, the benefits of therapy reduce, and although gains can be made, they tend not to be as great. To date, studies obtaining results of children becoming indistinguishable from their peers after intensive therapy have been where children commenced therapy before the age of 3.
This limited timespan during which substantial gains can be made means that early diagnosis is a critical factor in determining the outcome of a therapy program. Often parents and GPs will take a ‘wait and see’ approach, on the assumption that problems seen at 18-24 months will correct with time. In many cases this approach results in further regression and increased stress on the family. Unfortunately it also results in the loss of valuable time.
If you have a young child whose development is causing concern, particularly if they have lost skills or speech that they had previously demonstrated, it is essential that they be seen by a developmental paediatrician as soon as possible. An early diagnosis of autism, while devastating to the parents, is preferable to neglecting the problem and losing the opportunity to address and potentially correct the deficits of autism.