Autism awareness month: Early diagnosis for autism

Published: Apr. 22, 2016 at 11:52 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2016 at 3:01 PM EDT
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(Source: Ivanhoe Newswire)
(Source: Ivanhoe Newswire)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- April is national autism awareness month, and there's good news in the fight to cope with it.  An encouraging new study shows that children are being identified younger than ever before. And, as a result, critical therapy begins very early.

Two-year-old Ali has excelled in an autism-specific early intervention program for seven months.

Nearly 10 years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended children be tested for autism as early as 18 to 24 months. Then, if needed, kids, like Ali, can get a jump start on therapy.

Associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah, Deborah Bilder, MD, says, "Our scientific community has proven early intervention specific to autism can reduce the characteristics of autism that these children experience as they get older, can improve the ability of these kids to be in Mainstream settings."

A new study co-authored by Bilder has paved the way for wider access to early intervention. And now, lawmakers, schools, and health departments see how effective the program is.

"I feel like these numbers help these decision-makers determine what they need to do to improve the health and outcomes of those they serve," Bilder says.

Ali's mom, Brittany Coats, is a believer.

"Already, I've seen leaps and bounds improvements in her, so that's hopeful. And the fact that she's starting to vocalize a lot more and she actually just started saying "mama," so that was important to me, and I'm crying now… that just shows that she has potential," Coats says.

She's excited that Ali and her classmates will get the best shot possible.

Already in Utah, one of the five states in the study, lawmakers have passed legislation improving early access and intervention for autistic children.

And now, there's a statewide waiver for kids who get Medicaid to get free services.

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