Sitting in a Waiting Room

I seem to spend a bit of time in waiting rooms.

Recently I picked up a copy of ‘In Psych’ – June 2012 magazine whilst in one of those waiting rooms to have a look at. Lo and behold I opened to the following: ‘The trouble with autism: Delays in early identification and diagnosis’.

Seriously, what are the odds?!

Written by Associate Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, the article outlined the results from a study that set out to identify infants with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) between 12 and 24 months of age.

Currently the mean age for diagnosis in Australia is 4 years of age. For some children on the spectrum who are verbal and cognitively able identification can be later. Speaking from experience, accurately identifying autism in a young child is absolutely not an easy task. There can also feelings of distress and guilt experienced when a diagnosis is not made in a timely manner.

Having a ‘better system’ of identification for ASD’s would be a game-changer for countless families and their children.

So back to the study…241 nurses were trained in Victoria, Australia in a 2.5 hour session to identify infants with an ASD during their routine check-ups at 8 months, 12 months, 18 months and 24 months of age.

It was termed ‘developmental surveillance’. I like that term.

Over 20, 000 children were seen by these nurses. Of the children referred by the nurses for a standardized assessment, 81% met the criteria for autism. Only one child was incorrectly referred and the remaining children had either a developmental or language delay. A follow up study at preschool age indicated a rate of 86% in terms of diagnostic stability.

I think those results are pretty amazing.

The author states that ‘the earlier this (accurate diagnosis of autism) is possible, the more likely the child will be able to make the necessary developmental gains.’ This point is highlighted in the article:

‘The importance of education about early characteristics of ASD and the value of early identification, diagnosis and intervention cannot be underestimated.’

The author continues, ‘Indeed, early identification, diagnosis and intervention provides the greatest opportunity for better long-term outcomes, including greater independence, decreased burden on families and communities as a whole, and better quality of life for individuals and their families.’

That paragraph captures a simple concept. We have an opportunity to make a big difference.

Education is key and the message from this research study is clear: do not delay.

So here they are: 8 key signs in the second year of life (12 to 24 months) indicating risk of autism (as stated in the above mentioned article):

  1. Reduced or atypical eye contact
  2. Failure to couple eye contact with other communicative behaviour, like smiles
  3. Reduced social smiles
  4. Failure to initiate pointing, particularly to show/share
  5. Failure to follow a point
  6. Reduced to no response to name call
  7. Lack of imitative behaviours, including waving bye-bye etc
  8. Limited or no pretend play

To view the ‘M-CHAT’, a modified checklist for autism in toddlers, go to


3 thoughts on “Sitting in a Waiting Room

  1. Yes, education is the key. With our daughter as we slowly tell friends the reaction is firstly no I don’t think so, but when you press they actually don’t understand anything about autism or the spectrum. They tend to associate it with a “rain man” concept… I know some professionals who share this view so education is absolutely key!

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