Samantha Love wasn't sure she'd ever see this side of her son again.
"He was a happy, giggly child, and it's just that one day, the few words that he had, his affect, all of this just disappeared," Samantha, Brandon's mom, told Action News.
At Brandon's 1-year checkup, Samantha filled out the 24-question infant-toddler checklist. As she answered things like, "Do you know when your child is happy or upset?" and "Does your child point at objects?" it hit her.
"I think once I completed the form, I knew," Samantha told Action News.
Brandon's low score launched an evaluation for developmental disorders including autism.
Samantha says Brandon is on the spectrum. "Half of you is heartbroken because you're thinking, 'OK, something's wrong,' and the other half of you is thinking, 'I might get help,'" Samantha said.
Brandon did get help at Florida State University's Autism Institute. Associate Director, Dr. Lindee Morgan, says the checklist, which was developed here, measures a child's eye gaze, gestures, play and more.
Recent research shows more than 10,000 kids have been screened with the checklist at 12 months. 184 who failed it were selected for further study. 75-percent of those kids were later diagnosed with a communication disorder.
"About 20-percent will later have a diagnosis of autism," Dr. Morgan said.
A.J. Robert's mom Laura says the checklist led to her son being diagnosed with autism much earlier than the national average of 3 to 4 years old.
"Early intervention is the key. It really is," Laura told Action News.
"We're diagnosing around 18 months of age," Dr. Morgan said.
Dr. Morgan believes earlier treatment could mean better, long-term socialization.
"More of them will be in general education settings and in jobs and living independently," Dr. Morgan said.
Both Samantha and Laura feel early treatment is making all the difference in their sons' development.
"He's doing really good," Laura said.
"I feel like I've gotten my son back," Samantha said.
Right now, the checklist is mainly being used by pediatricians in San Diego, California and Tallahassee, Florida. Dr. Morgan believes as word about its effectiveness spreads, it could become more common. She urges parents to fill it out during every check-up from 9 to 24 months old. She says that's important because signs of developmental disorders might not show up until a child is closer to 2 years old.
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