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Why is early diagnosis and intervention important for kids with autism?

By Kortney West, MD

Dr. West is a board-certified pediatrician who has spent the last decade diagnosing and treating children with autism.


If you question behaviors your child is displaying or notice signs of autism in your child, your first inclination may be to wait and see. After all, every child develops at his or her own pace, and just because your child isn’t hitting milestones on the same schedule as your child’s same age family, or your neighbor down the street, it doesn’t mean there is anything to diagnose or be concerned about. 

But I would encourage you not to wait and to act on your parental instinct. Ask your child’s healthcare provider about the behaviors you question  and get the assessment process started now. Why? Because the younger your child is when diagnosed with autism, and the earlier intervention is started, the better the long-term outcomes will be.

What is early intervention, and why is it a good idea?

Early intervention is defined as intervention that happens before age 3 – that’s before preschool. 

The brain’s ability to rewire itself – called neuroplasticity – means that it can make new connections and forge new pathways. Early childhood is when humans have the highest level of neuroplasticity – and that’s the key to why early intervention can be so powerful. That means, if we can help a child with autism develop verbal and nonverbal communication skills for example, we can help set that child on a path to a lifetime of effective communication. 

There is a huge waiting list for autism assessments in my area. What do I do?

Because autism covers such a broad spectrum of signs and behaviors, the diagnostic process is comprehensive and can lead to long wait lists. However, that doesn’t mean your child can’t get help in the meantime, while you’re waiting for a diagnosis.

Every state has early intervention programs for ages 0 to 3 that can connect families with resources and therapies. Regulations differ, so check your state’s health department. If your child’s healthcare provider suspects autism, your child may be exhibiting some delays or behaviors that can be treated even without a diagnosis. For example, children can receive speech therapy for a speech delay or can receive occupational therapy for sensory processing challenges. State early intervention programs can provide these services to families based on specific deficits, even if the diagnosis is not yet clear. 


The views represented herein are my own and should not be construed as medical advice. If you have a question and would like to speak to one of our providers, please schedule an appointment here.


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