1 in 4 Children with Autism Go Undiagnosed
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often learn, interact, and behave differently than most. At times, these unique traits can pose challenges in daily life.
The earlier parents and healthcare providers intervene, the better. That way, kids with autism can receive services that help maximize developmental potential, reduce symptoms, and improve quality of life.
However, a new study suggests that many cases slip under the radar. In fact, about one-fourth of children with autism go undiagnosed. The burden falls heaviest on black and Hispanic families.
Why? Language barriers and social stigma may play a role. Also, there’s no single symptom or simple test for autism. The signs vary from child to child. Providers diagnose the condition through a combination of observations, assessments, and questions about behavior and development.
Know the warning signs
Your child’s pediatrician should screen for ASD at the 18-month and 24-month well-child visits. High-risk children may need more frequent check-ins. Kids who were born early, had a low birth weight, or have a sibling with autism fall into this category.
You don’t have to merely wait for these visits though. Look out for warning signs. They appear by age 3, but often, before your child’s first birthday. Most infants express interest in the world and the people around them, engaging with voices, smiles, and gestures. If your little one seems isolated and unresponsive, raise a red flag. Also notice if your child:
Is slow to start talking
Doesn’t respond to their name by 12 months of age
Never points at interesting objects—say, a plane flying overhead—by 14 months
Always plays with toys the same way, including lining them up
Repeats movements such as hand-flapping, body-rocking, or spinning
Act early and often
If you notice these or other concerns about your child’s development:
Speak up. Tell your child’s pediatrician what you’ve seen. Ask for a developmental screening.
Then, do it again. If the pediatrician doesn’t share your concerns, trust your gut. Ask for a referral to a specialist. Options include developmental pediatricians, child neurologists, and child psychologists or psychiatrists.
Reach out. Some healthcare systems have patient navigators. These are professionals who can guide you toward services and help complete paperwork. Your state may also have an early intervention program.