In Kathy Schrock's mind, the earlier autism is diagnosed, the better.
For Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region, that means reaching out to toddlers while many other diagnostic clinics in the Chicago area won't see a child before 3.
"We know that a diagnosis can occur at 2, that intervention is really critical in those first years of life," says Schrock, vice president of clinical services at Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox River. "More and more of the research is saying that you can absolutely identify at 18 months, 24 months, and then you can begin intervention."
As autism rates continue to climb-now at one in 88 children and one in 54 for boys, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-demand for diagnosis and treatment has never been greater.
Schrock, who has been in the field 35 years, says in the last six years, Easter Seals has gone from serving just a few kids with autism to now almost 40 percent of the kids it serves having autism.
To meet that demand, Easter Seals recently opened an Autism Diagnostic Clinic that will focus primarily on very young children, though specialists will see kids up to age 10 or 12, she says.
While Easter Seals has always provided diagnostic evaluations for infants and kids, until now, a child with suspected autism had to go elsewhere for a diagnosis and then return to Easter Seals for therapy.
"That didn't make a lot of sense to us," Schrock says.
Schrock says Easter Seals has expertise in young children and, unlike many other diagnostics clinics, provides the ongoing therapy.
The Easter Seals clinic team includes a psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist and speech and language therapist who work together on the diagnosis and treatment plan. The team also can call upon a nutritionist, audiologist, feeding specialist and others as needed, she says.
An autism diagnosis doesn't mean the child is lost forever, she says.
"We've learned a lot of about kids with autism and how to relate them and understand them, and then help them grow and develop so they can be successful in school, in their community and their world."
Tamara is the editor of Chicago Parent and mom of three.
See more of Tamara's stories here.