• Smiling or expressing joy by the age of six months;
• Babbling by 12 months;
• Gesturing, pointing, waving or reaching by 12 months;
• Fully formed words by 16 months; or
•.The loss of any of these skills.
Access to an early intervention program like the Early Start Denver Model can bolster intellectual ability and social behaviors, Rosanoff says. But services are needed throughout the lifespan and some can be provided by parents, he says. Among the resources featured on Autism Speaks' website are "tool kits" for visiting the dentist, getting haircuts, aiding in the transition from adolescence into adulthood and finding employment.
"A lot of people with autism are spectacular performers if people give them the accommodations they need to succeed," says disability advocate Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who's based in the Washington, D.C., area.
Mizrahi, who has a child with a disability and herself struggled with dyslexia—unable to read until the age of 12—formed a consulting company that pulled in $1 million a year and boasted clients that included the White House and six incumbent prime ministers. For her part, it was easier to run her own company and hire others to handle areas that were more challenging for her.
"It doesn't matter if you have autism or Down syndrome or any one of a number of other things. You need somebody to look at you as an individual, find your strengths, help you build upon your strengths" and "help you figure out how to compensate for your weaknesses," she says. "It's a miserable existence where you basically just watch TV all day and you're nonproductive, and it's very demoralizing for people who want to work, who are capable of working."
For more information about identifying and caring for someone with autism, visit the websites of the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, Autism Speaks, the Autism Society and the Autism Research Institute.