Sinclair Cares: Advances in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder

Candi Spitz says her twin sons were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. (WPEC)

One in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the United States. Most of them show the first signs of autism by age 3, but they are not diagnosed until they are much older.

Candi Spitz is the mother of 10-year-old twin boys, Brendan and Jaden.

"They were the perfect babies!" she said.

The boys passed their developmental milestones as expected.

"The doctors used to remark about how strong they were, how advanced they were. They were walking, talking eating playing … Everything early," she said.

But that changed when they were 17 months old.

"There were no expressions in their bodies. You would wave their hands, tickle, giggle, anything you could do to get a reaction, and they were blank," Spitz said.

The slowdown in development was the first step in diagnosing the boys with autism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that many children with autism are not being diagnosed as early as they could be.

Autism can be diagnosed as early as age 2, most children are diagnosed at age 4. The lag negatively affects how and when families get the services they need.

"You see the whole gamut. There is not one specific, cookie cutter diagnosis for autism," said Dr. Norina Ocampo, a pediatrician in South Florida.

Ocampo specializes in diagnosing and treating the developmental disorder that makes it difficult for people to socialize and communicate.

"There is no blood test to diagnose autism. It is basically developmental screenings and family histories and observations of the parents," Ocampo said.

Ocampo said doctors continue to rely on a checklist to diagnosis autism, but the questions have changed.

The new questions pinpoint behavior in greater detail because every patient falls on a different point of the autism spectrum.

For example, doctors want to know specifically how a child asks for something.

"Does your child point to ask for things? Does your child point to show you things?" Ocampo said.

Brendan and Jaden are primarily non-verbal. They embrace technology to help them communicate.

"He'll take videos of whatever is going on his surroundings and then he will dub his voice on there," Spitz said. "And that's usually how I know if he is sad, happy or whatever it happens to be."

Spitz celebrates different types of milestones, looking ahead to a bright future.

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