Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that today affects 1 in 66 children in Canada.
Despite this high rate of autism diagnoses, there is often a lack of information available to new families about what autism is, and how to recognize the early signs.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is characterized by deficits in social communication and interactions, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, activities or interests.
Research has shown that early intervention can significantly improve long term outcomes for children with ASD, making early diagnosis key.
Usually, families are the first to recognize atypical behavior in their child. This makes it important for families to be aware of the early signs and symptom, which may include:
- No social smiles by 6 months.
- Limited or no eye contact by 6 months
- No babbling by 12 months
- Lack of use of gestures to communicate (e.g. pointing) by 12 months
- Not responding to name by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No meaningful 2-word phrases by 24 months.
- Loss of previously acquired skills at any point.
Other possible signs include:
- May have difficulty with changes in routine
- May repeat words or phrases over (echolalia)
- No interest in toys, or plays with them in an unusual way (lining up, spinning etc.)
- Limited pretend play skills
- May be sensitive to sounds, bright lights, smells, tastes, textures etc.
- Difficulty understanding the feelings of others.
It is important that if you have concerns about ASD, you share these with your family doctor. There is no medical test for autism, so it may be useful to take videos or document unusual behaviour as this may help your doctor in their assessments.
If your doctor shares your concerns, they can refer you to a pediatrician or directly to the BC Autism Assessment Network (BCCAN). The BCCAN provides free diagnostic assessments for children who are suspected of having ASD, however there can be long waitlists to being seen so the sooner the process is started, the better.
During the diagnostic process, professionals will look at communication, behavior, and developmental history. Parent interviews and observations are also a key part of making a diagnosis. More information about this early autism signs and symptoms, as well as on diagnosis can be found at:
In BC, once a child receives a formal ASD diagnosis, they will be eligible for funding through MCFD. Children under 6 have access to $22,000 per year to access approved autism services. This amount drops significantly after the age of 6, going down to $6,000 per year.
Funding can be used for a range of early intervention services including applied behaviour analysis (ABA) and early intensive behaviour intervention (EIBI), which are leading evidenced based practices in the treatment of autism. Other approved services include speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.
Sylvia Hunter is a Behaviour Consultant/Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) living in Squamish. She has been working in the field of Autism since 2006 in home, school and community settings, and currently serves families between West Vancouver and Whistler.