As my colleague Rob Stein reports today, a new screening tool that can help identify symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children as young as 12 months could soon become a routine part of babies’ medical care.

Diagnosing ASD early is important, as research has shown that early intervention can benefit children whose symptoms place them on the autism spectrum.

Having a routine screening process in place -- in this case, a questionnaire parents can fill out in five minutes in the pediatrician’s waiting room -- may well increase the number of children diagnosed with ASD in the U.S. The most recent estimate places the prevalence of ASD at about 1 in 110 children.

Having a concrete tool for diagnosing ASD early will also surely provide some relief for the thousands of families who find themselves perplexed by their young children’s unusual behaviors -- or lack of usual behaviors such as making eye contact -- but don’t quite know what to make of them. You might think that it’s easy to identify ASD in a child, but sometimes the symptoms can be so subtle, baffling or frightening that it can be hard for parents to recognize them for what they are, much less do anything about them.

As we head into the final days of National Autism Awareness Month, I’m hopeful that more kids with ASD will get the help they need early enough for it to make a difference in their lives. I’m also grateful that the discredited research that led people to believe the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism has been fully debunked and discredited (but not before it likely led to outbreaks of measles when parents chose not to vaccinate their kids), freeing minds and resources to focus on finding the disorder’s true causes.

Do you have a child with ASD? Were you able to detect it early, or did you discover it after your child had started school? Do you think an early diagnosis makes a big difference? Please share your stories here today in honor of your kids and all the others with ASD.