Early Identification of ASD

small multicolor puzzleWe often hear about Early Identification and Intervention when talking about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and most autism specialists speak to the importance of early recognition of signs of ASD as well as other developmental delays. Once these delays have been recognized, appropriate services can be implemented and often the impact of the delays on the child’s learning and socialization can be mitigated.

There are a number of “warning signs” of ASD described in several different programs dedicated to helping parents and child care providers recognize when a child might need further assessment. Some examples are “Make the First Five Count” which is supported by our Easter Seals partners, “Learn the Signs. Act Early” which is a program of the CDC, and “Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive!” a program of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. TAP has made available on our website all the developmental checklists from the “Learn the Signs. Act Early” program, here.

The AAP recommends that children be screened for developmental delays, including signs of ASD, at well child visits beginning at age 18 months. Most early screenings involve asking parents to respond to a list of questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Relying on parents’ memories, these screening tools are not as specific and reliable as structured observation of a child’s behavior by a professional specially trained in recognizing behavioral signs of ASD and differentiating those from other developmental or learning delays. As a result, The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP) and other providers have been increasing the use of screening appointments where the child’s behavior can be observed by autism specialists. The results of such screenings may be referral for an ASD diagnostic evaluation, referral for other specialty evaluations, or explaining the wide variations present in normal development of young children.

It can be difficult to differentiate between normal variations in development of young children and developmental delays due to ASD, learning or other disabilities. The Kennedy Krieger Institute has posted a video that shows children demonstrating a number of “warning signs” and describing some of the subtleties in making the distinction. It is not easy to spot the differences, and this is why specially trained and experienced professionals like those who make up the screening and diagnostic teams at TAP centers.

If you have concerns about your child’s development, point them out to your pediatrician. Make use of the tools provided on the TAP website and the early identification programs notes above to help you clearly describe your concerns. You can also contact your nearest TAP center for additional resources, referral assistance, and services.


Russell J. Bonanno, M. Ed.
TAP Program Manager



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