Mary Grace Mauney, an 18-year-old high school senior from Lilburn, Ga., has a mild form of autism that wasn't diagnosed until she was 9.
As a young girl, she didn't smile, spoke in a very formal manner and began to repeat the last word or syllable of her sentences. She was prone to intense tantrums, but only outside school. There, she excelled and was in gifted classes.
"I took her to a therapist and they said she was just very sensitive and very intense and very creative," said her mother, Maureen, 54.
Pediatricians should send such children for "early intervention as soon as you even think there's a problem," Johnson said.
Dr. Ruby Roy, a pediatrician with Loyola University Medical Center, who treats at least 20 autistic children, applauded the reports.
"This is a disorder that is often missed, especially when it's mild, and the mild kids are the ones ... who can be helped the most," Roy said.
Dr. Dirk Steinert, who treats children and adults at Columbia St. Mary's clinic in suburban Milwaukee, said the push for early autism screening is important - but that it's tough to squeeze it into a child's regular wellness checkup.
Some pediatricians have tried scheduling a visit just to check for developmental problems, when children are 2½. The problem is that insurance doesn't always cover these extra visits, Steinert said.
Posted by LS
CBS and Associated Press contributed to this report.