NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – April is Autism Awareness Month, spotlighting a developmental disorder that affects 1 in 59 children in the United States.

A major advocacy group is launching a new awareness campaign to try to help children get diagnosed earlier for the best future possible, reports CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez.

One case is Tanner Troy, a boy who was missing developmental milestones as a toddler when his doctor recommended he be evaluated.

“He was babbling, no words at all,” said mother Tianna Canady.

Tanner was diagnosed with autism at 2 and a half years old.

MORE: 2-Minute Screening On ScreenForAutism.org

Not all children in the U.S. are diagnosed as early as they can be, a trend something Autism Speaks is hoping to change. The group’s Lisa Goring also wants to reach Hispanic and African American communities where studies show children are diagnosed at later ages.

“Screening can be done as early as 16 to 24 months,” said Goring. “Some can be diagnosed as early as 2 years, yet in the United States, the average age of diagnosis is 5 years old.”

The new campaign, which features Julia, the Sesame Street muppet with autism, hopes to lower the age of diagnosis.

MORE: Autism Awareness Day Aimed At Lowering Age Of Diagnosis

“We want to make sure that parents are empowered with the information that they need, so all children are screened, and if necessary get the diagnosis and supports that they may need,” said Goring.

Early warning signs parents should watch for include:

  • Few or no smiles by six months
  • Limited or no eye contact by six months
  • Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, other facial expressions by nine months
  • Little or no babbling by 12 months
  • Little or no pointing, showing, reaching, waving by 12 months
  • Little or no response to name by 12 months
  • Very few or no words by 16 months
  • Few or no meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months

Tanner started an early intervention program immediately after his diagnosis, and his mother believes it made all the difference for her son.

“He is more social, he is able to do a lot of things on his own,” said Canady. “If he didn’t have that, he might be 5 years old today with no words.”

Just because your child has one or even several of those warning signs does not mean that he or she is autistic, or even on the autism spectrum, but it is reason to seek professional evaluation. Early intervention can make a big difference.

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