THE number of children diagnosed on the autism spectrum in the south-west has more than doubled in the past four years.
Warrnambool-based disability support and care agency Mpower is now has between 55 and 60 children with the disorder registered, compared to just 20 several years ago.
The agency's early intervention manager Julie Pech said better education around diagnosis had contributed greatly to the increase.
The director of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University, professor Cheryl Dissanayake, said the most recent research had found that about 2 per cent of children at school, or one in 50, had an autism spectrum disorder.
Professor Dissanayake said many of these were not diagnosed until they went to school.
Common features of autism disorders include difficulty understanding social rules and non-verbal cues, difficulty communicating, repetitive behaviours and narrow interests. Some children also have delayed motor skills, both fine and gross.
Mrs Pech explained that "red flags" for autism varied from child to child.
"No one child with autism presents like another."
She said parents would most often notice problems in language and behaviour.
Mpower provides support to ensure people with autism are active within the community.
"It is important for us as a community to support families and their children and give them every opportunity to participate to their ability," Mrs Pech said.
For Woodford mother, Leah Kermeen, it was mother's instinct that told her there were challenges facing her son Bailey.
"I always had an instinct, whether is was just a mother's hunch," she said.
Mrs Kermeen said it wasn't until the arrival of her second child, Paige, that she noticed more differences. Bailey was 20 months old but Paige was progressing more quickly.
"Bailey was more delayed in his milestones, in feeding himself and walking."
At age 3, Bailey was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and Mrs Kermeen said it proved that parents should back their instincts if they believed something was wrong.
"I guess because I knew something wasn't right, I expected a diagnosis," she said.
"It's not something every parent wants for their child. It took about six to 12 months to get our head around what autism is.
"We keep positive and are proactive. We're not ashamed.
"We try to be proactive about informing the general public."
Mrs Kermeen said Bailey, now 7, was thriving and had fantastic support at St John's Primary School in Dennington and through Mpower.
She said parents needed to trust their instincts and do research.
"It doesn't matter if your child is different, everyone is different," she said.
The pairs comments come as a YouTube video gathers momentum which shows the differences between toddlers with and without autism.
Mrs Pech said the video provided a snapshot into the typical development of a toddler when compared with a child of similar age who showed signs of autism.
She said the short video was a useful tool for parents because it showed the contrast between children.
*The YouTube video is titled Bringing The Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders into Focus.