5 Things About Behavior Therapy

Full Video – 7 minutes

Hello and welcome back. In this video we’re going to briefly discuss identifying the symptoms of autism in toddlers. 

A toddler is a child approximately 12 to 36 months old, though definitions vary. The word toddler comes from the term “to toddle”, which means to walk unsteadily, like a child of this age.  

The toddler years are a time of great mental, emotional and social development. 

These first three years of life are crucial to a child’s development. Children make several visits to their doctor or nurse during this period for well-baby/child check-ups, vaccinations and general developmental screenings.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that the 18 and 24 month well check-ups also include developmental screening for autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, or simply autism. All children should be screened using the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, or MCHAT. All children, no exceptions.   

The MCHAT is a short questionnaire, which is filled out by parents and a health care worker at the 18 month developmental check-up. It aims to identify children who are at risk for autism and related conditions.

The questions address areas of your child’s development and behavior, including social and emotional development, language and communication skills, as well as thinking and learning ability. We’ll talk more the MCHAT a little later in this video.

Since parents are usually the first to notice that something is wrong, you should keep a close eye on your toddler’s developmental milestones at all times.  Although autism is challenging to diagnose before 24 months, symptoms often surface between 12 and 18 months. 

Some children with ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not appear until 24 months or later. Some children with autism seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had. 

If signs are detected by 18 months of age, intensive behavioral treatment, or ABA therapy, may help reverse the symptoms. 

Acting early is critical! Research has shown that if a child with autism receives intensive treatment before elementary school, up to half of those children will show no symptoms by the time they are in school. Without early behavioral treatment, less than 2% will show improvement. 

If a healthcare professional or family member tells you to “wait and see,” don’t do it. Take action immediately.    

 At 18 months, your child should be walking and pointing to things to show others. At this age your child should also recognize familiar items such as a brush or a spoon. Children at this age often copy others and should have at least 6 words. An 18 month old child should also notice when a caregiver leaves and returns.

If you notice that any of these behaviors are absent in your child, immediately contact your pediatrician, doctor, or nurse. If you don’t have a doctor or nurse, visit the Global Partnership for Telehealth at GPTH.org. They are a non-profit that may be able to connect you to a doctor or a nurse online. 

 By 24 months your child should be using two word phrases, such as “drink milk.” Children at 24 months should know what to do with common objects such as a phone, a brush, fork or spoon. Your toddler should be also walking steadily and following simple instructions at 24 months.

 If your child is lacking any of these skills or behaviors at 24 months, it warrants a visit to the doctor, even though your child may have successfully completed the MCHAT screen at 18 months. 

And, if your child experiences any sudden loss of language ability, immediately take them to your doctor or nurse.  

By 36 months or three years, warning signs for autism include falling down or trouble walking, drooling or unclear speech, and not speaking in complete sentences. By 36 months, your toddlers should be able to work simple toys such as peg boards and cranks, and simple puzzles.

 Social interaction red flags for autism at this age include a persistent lack of eye contact, a lack of interest in pretend play or lack of playing with other children. Again, any sudden loss of language or skills previously developed warrants an immediate trip to your child’s doctor. 

 As we’ve discussed, the recommended method for autism screening in toddlers is the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, or MCHAT. The MCHAT is a scientifically validated tool for screening children between 16 and 30 months of age that assesses risk for autism spectrum disorder.

You can do your own developmental screening in less than 10 minutes using the MCHAT, available for free at M_CHAT.org. It will guide you through a 20 question survey about your child’s behaviors and milestones. It automatically calculates the score and most parents find it easy to do. 

The MCHAT online screener will automatically calculate your answers and rank your child as at low, medium or high risk for autism. For a high risk score, it will recommend a visit to a doctor or nurse immediately. For medium risk, it may recommend immediate action or retaking the screener in 30 days. 

Please remember that a positive screening result is not a diagnosis and it does not mean your child has autism.  

However, if your child scores as high risk or the MCHAT recommends that you visit a doctor, you must act immediately for the sake of your child’s future.  

Early diagnosis and intervention are critical. The earlier a diagnosis can be made, the earlier intervention methods, such as ABA therapy, can be implemented. 

So be sure your toddler receives the MCHAT screening at 18 months and 24 months and if you suspect autism in your toddler or identify any of the warning signs, don’t wait! Have your toddler diagnosed as soon possible during this critical developmental period.  

The CDC.gov website, in the child development section, is an excellent resource for learning more about developmental milestones.

The CDC.gov website has some great resources including a free Milestone Tracker mobile app, a free downloadable checklist of milestones to see how your little one is developing, and a library of photos and videos showing developmental milestones.  

Please remember the information in this program is not meant to diagnose or treat. It should not take the place of consultation with a qualified healthcare professional.