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Module: Early Identification of Autism Spectrum Disorders
IMPORTANCE OF EARLY IDENTIFICATION
Potential Benefits of Early Identification and Diagnosis
Potential Family Benefits
What are the potential benefits to early diagnosis? First, diagnosing autism as soon as possible gives families some answers they are seeking to their questions about their children’s atypical development. This allows them to begin the process of learning about autism, understanding its effects on their child, and beginning the process of perceiving the future differently. It allows families to replace worry and fantasy with solid information about the nature of their child’s challenges. For many families, receiving a diagnosis allows them to move from unfocused worry to mobilized efforts to learn about the disorder, to find help for their child, and to move into some action plan; such mobilization is often a source of relief from some of the anxiety parents experience as they move through the diagnostic process.
Selection of Appropriate Treatments
The second potential benefit of early diagnosis has to do with selection of appropriate treatment strategies. Children with autism have a different learning profile pattern of relative strengths and weaknesses than children with other developmental disorders. Thus, it is not surprising that children with autism learn most rapidly when they receive unique teaching and curriculum approaches, approaches built for their distinctive learning profile. These methods for teaching young children with autism contain elements that are not seen in early intervention approaches for young children with other kinds of disabilities. Specifically, there is more focus on direct instruction, higher levels of structure, higher numbers of intervention hours per week, and lower child to teacher ratios than are typically seen in early intervention services in most communities for children with other developmental problems. A number of studies have documented better outcomes for young children with autism who receive intensive and specialized treatment as early as possible (Hoyson, Jamison, & Strain, 1984; McEachin, Smith, & Lovaas, 1993; Rogers, & Lewis, 1989; Sheinkopf, & Siegel, 1998; Dawson et al., 2010). Some of these studies have demonstrated considerable IQ and speech gains and much better functioning in elementary school for children receiving intensive and specialized intervention by age 3. Thus, earlier diagnosis allows the most appropriate treatment to be selected and delivered.
Potential Reduction in Societal Cost of Autism
Finally, the lifetime societal cost of autism, including care and lost productivity, has been estimated at $3.2 million per child (Ganz, 2007), with health care expenditures increasing sharply (142%) over the last five years (Leslie, & Martin, 2007). Therefore, it is critical to the individual, the family, and even to society that we improve our efforts at early detection and access to early intervention in order to attempt to lessen the impact of the disability associated with autism.