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Diagnosing autism at a younger age
April is Autism Awareness Month. One in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the United States. Most of them showing the first signs of autism by age three, but not getting a diagnosis until they are much older.
Candi Spitz is the mom of 10-year-old twin boys, Brendan and Jaden.
"They were the perfect babies!" said Spitz.
The boys passed their developmental milestones as expected.
"The doctors used to remark about how strong they were, how advanced they were,” said Spitz. “They were walking, talking eating playing... Everything early."
But that changed when they were 17 months old.
"There were no expressions in their bodies,” said Spitz. “You would waive their hands, tickle, giggle anything you could do to get a reaction, and they were blank."
The slowdown in development was first step in diagnosing the boys with autism.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found many children with autism are not being diagnosed as early as they could be.
Even though, autism cane be diagnosed as early as age two, most children are diagnosed at age four. The lag negatively affects how and when families get the services they need.
"You see the whole gamut. There is not one specific, cookie cutter diagnosis for autism," said Dr. Norina Ocampo.
Dr. Ocampo is a pediatrician in South Florida who specializes in diagnosing and treating the developmental disorder that makes it difficult for people to socialize and communicate.
"There is no blood test to diagnose autism. It is basically developmental screenings and family histories and observations of the parents," said Dr. Ocampo.
Dr. Ocampo says doctors continue to rely on a checklist to diagnosis autism but the questions have changed. The new questions pinpoint behavior in greater detail because every patient falls on a different point of the autism spectrum.
For example, doctors want to know specifically how your child asks you for something.
"Does your child point to ask for things, does your child point to show you things," said Dr. Ocampo.
Brendan and Jaden are primarily non-verbal. They embrace technology to help them communicate.
"He'll take videos of whatever is going on his surroundings and then he will dub his voice on there… and that's usually how I know if he is sad, happy or whatever it happens to be," said Spitz.
Spitz celebrates different types of milestones looking ahead to a bright future.