It Takes a Village to Protect a Child With ASD

What we all need to know about autism spectrum disorders to prevent another Avonte Oquendo tragedy.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Signs in some children, however, are barely noticeable or are masked by other disabilities.

See the Signs

Symptoms of ASD appear as early as 6 months. Children can be screened at around their 1st birthday, and reliable diagnoses can be made as soon as the two-year mark. Treated early, children learn, communicate and socialize better, and many can attend mainstream kindergarten. So to learn the normal developmental milestones, parents should make sure that pediatricians are screening their babies and young children at every checkup and should know the signs, which include the following: 

* No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months of age or thereafter
* No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months
* No babbling by 12 months
* No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
* No words by 16 months
* No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
* Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age
* Avoiding eye contact (Go here to see what it’s like to try to make eye contact with an autistic child.)
* Preoccupation with objects

“Some children progressively show signs and symptoms over time,” says Gourdine. “Others develop normally for a period of time but at 15 to 30 months begin to regress.” (Go here for a comprehensive list.)

About half of children with autism elope for long enough that the parents fear for their safety; yet only half of families of children with autism receive professional advice about how to handle it. More than one-third of children with ASD who wander can’t consistently communicate their name, address or phone number. 

The Autism Wandering and Elopement Initiative, or AWAARE, offers a free Big Red Safety Toolkit (pdf), which includes a family-wandering emergency plan and other tools. 

In January Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed legislation called “Avonte’s Law” to provide voluntary tracking devices and support services for children with ASD. The Justice Department, which already provides grants for devices that track seniors with Alzheimer’s, immediately agreed to allow grant beneficiaries to include people with ASD, too.

Stand Up for a Child 

If you suspect that your child or a young person in your community may have ASD, don’t allow fears of stigma or labels to paralyze you.