Autistic children often show signs of the disorder before age three, but a new report from the National Institutes of Mental Health finds less than 40 percent of autistic children are being diagnosed before age four, and the
average age of diagnosis is five.
The report states nine out of ten children with autism have special health care needs, with social skills training and speech or language therapy being the most common.
It also states more than half of school-aged autistic children use psychotropic medications, which span a variety of medication classes, and may reflect an
absence of clear practice guidelines for use of these medications in children.
Doctors say early diagnosis is key and it's important for parents, especially first-time parents, to pay attention to the warning signs.
"Is the child responding to their name when they're called? Or is there response really weak? You might have to raise your voice or get in front of them and actually get their attention. When you need their attention, do they actually look at you? Do they look through you or around you or do they look at you briefly and then look away," said Thomas Frazier, Ph.D., of the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital.
Dr. Frazier says most autistic children can really benefit from treatments as early as two years of age, which could vastly improve their participation in daily activities, much more so than if it's diagnosed at the average age of five.