PhD candidate Megan Clark from La Trobe's Olga Tennison Research Centre studied 48 children who were diagnosed early at two years and followed them through to school age and compared them to 37 children who were diagnosed after age three.
Early diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder is considered best practice, increasing access to early intervention. Yet, many children are diagnosed well after age three.
“We wanted to know whether the earlier diagnosis and more access to intervention would have a positive impact on children's development, in this case during their school years,” Ms Clark said.
She said the findings indicated that children diagnosed early demonstrated better cognitive and language outcomes at school compared to children diagnosed later. Children diagnosed early were also more likely to attend mainstream primary school.
“Surprisingly, the amount of intervention children received was not significantly associated with their cognitive outcomes at school age. In contrast, the age children began intervention made a greater contribution to their outcomes at school age providing further support for earlier diagnosis and intervention,” Ms Clark said.
Ms Clark said the findings illustrated how crucial it was for parents and families to have an early diagnosis.
“This maximises their child’s early learning opportunities to support their development during the school years and beyond,” she said.
Ms Clark’s research was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder.