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Early Clinical Signs of Autism

Updated: May 15

Autism spectrum disorder, also called ASD for short, is a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that has an onset in early childhood and that is associated with a wide range of symptoms and ability levels. Signs can be identified as early as 12 months of age, although signs become more apparent as a child ages.

The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that speech-language pathologists, who are allied health care professionals, be familiar with early features and signs of autism spectrum disorder, ask parents whether they have any developmental concerns, note any clinical signs, and refer families for a developmental evaluation when deemed necessary.

Early autism signs that can be observed are:

  • Limited eye contact

  • Limited joint attention skills

  • Limited use of communicative gestures

  • Limited response to name when called

  • Unusual play and interests

When screening indicates a possible risk for autism, the speech-language pathologist will refer the child for a more in-depth assessment with a developmental psychologist or paediatrician with CHEO's Access Team. Some parents may also opt to consult privately, since waiting lists can be long through the public sector. Some clinics in the Ottawa region that offer early assessment of autism are Emerging Minds, CAFCO, and QuickStart Autism.

An early and timely diagnosis of autism, and referral for intensive, individualized and specialized interventions at the earliest age possible, can lead to better long-term outcomes by capitalizing on the brain neuroplasticity of young children.

Our team at ABC Pediatric Therapies Clinic offers a variety of services in the area of autism, such as preschool screenings, a French Preschool Program, therapy services, workshops, parent coaching, and more. Sharon Burgess, M.H.Sc., SLP, Reg. CASLPO, one of our clinical director, also teaches at Ottawa U and in Morocco, on the subject, and offers a variety or workshops for parents, educators and clinicians.

If you have concerns that your child may be presented with signs of autism, you can discuss it with your health care provider, and/or consult a speech-language pathologist with experience in autism. You can also fill out the M-CHAT-R, which only takes a few minutes to fill out, and is available in a variety of languages.

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