The earlier you can start evidence-based interventions, such as occupational therapy, with a child with autism spectrum disorder, the more effective that treatment will be.
Most experts in the field agree on that.
However, one barrier to early treatment has been the reliability of autism diagnoses of young children.
Previously, a diagnosis wasn’t considered reliableTrusted Source until the age of 2.
That may soon start to change.
A new study published in JAMA PediatricsTrusted Source concludes that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses made at the age of 14 months generally don’t change as a child gets older.
Researchers tracked 1,269 toddlers while examining the children at multiple times, beginning at 12 months of age.
The researchers said they noticed an autism diagnosis at 14 months was generally “stable.”
They also noted that 24 percent of the children eventually diagnosed with ASD were “missed” on initial evaluations by licensed psychologists who attributed behavioral patterns to other aspects such as language delay.
The new findings could support health professionals who want to make earlier diagnoses and begin implementing interventions sooner.
For families and children with ASD, this could have life-changing outcomes.
“Now that we understand the early nature of ASD and the very early age of diagnostic stability, it opens doors for researchers to begin examining the impact of very early delivered treatment,” Karen Pierce, PhD, a study co-author and a professor in the neurosciences department at the University of California San Diego, told Healthline. “Our understanding of early brain plasticity suggests that very early treatment should result in excellent outcomes, but we will only know for sure once the studies have been conducted. Our findings open the door for such studies.”
Two autism experts also interviewed by Healthline agreed a diagnosis earlier than 2 years of age is certainly possible, but they had a few cautions.
Rebecca Sachs, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at CBT Spectrum in New York, said indicators for autism such as language delay and social interaction are present as early as 14 months.
However, she noted that girls with autism sometimes aren’t diagnosed until a later age or are often misdiagnosed due to the structure and measures used in ASD evaluations.
Kate Cody, PsyD, a licensed psychologist with Spectrum Psychological Services, said the accuracy of such early diagnoses can be determined by what experts are focusing on.
She also noted most early diagnoses are based on how a child interacts with an adult. Other signs might appear when the child is older and starts interacting with peers.