Autism: How Parents and Caregivers Can Put the Pieces Together
Autism affects 1.5 million Americans and 67 million people around the world. Autism is defined by significant impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. This disability affects children from all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is four times more likely to occur in boys than girls. One in every 150 children is diagnosed with Autism.
Early Warning Signs
Autism affects every child differently; therefore, no child will share the same symptoms with another. Currently, there is no clear definition to what causes autism, but parents and caregivers can look for early warning signs, which are often noticeable by the time a child turns three years old and will last throughout a person's life time. As soon as a parent/caregiver notices the following symptoms, they should take their child to a doctor or health care provider.
Eye Contact. Autistic children make little or no eye contact.
Speech. Look for late speaking or no speaking at all. Some autistic children have trouble expressing needs or do not respond to verbal communication.
Relationships. Sometimes autistic children have difficulty relating to other people, prefer to be alone or don't like to cuddle.
Play. Children are active and creative, so take note if your child doesn't play. Also keep in mind that autistic behavior sometimes includes unusual play patterns like spinning objects over and over again.
Extreme Behaviors: Watch for extreme behaviors like too much laughing or crying for no reason, tantrums and sensitivity to pain (or lack of it). Sometimes autistic kids don't have a natural fear of danger, and are fixated on certain objects for a long time. Repetitive movements like hand-flapping also can be an early sign of autism. Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The Sooner, The Better
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly believes in the importance of early assessment and screening for autism to ensure that children are identified and receive access to services as early as possible. Research shows that children diagnosed at an early stage, and who visit the doctor regularly for treatment, show improvements in learning and communications skills.
Developmental Screenings: Doctors and nurses use developmental screenings to tell if a child is learning basic skills when s/he should, or if s/he might have a problem. Since there is no lab or blood test to tell if a child may have a delay, the developmental screening will help tell if a child needs to see a specialist.
Early Intervention: Research shows that early intervention reduces the effects of autism. By starting treatment at an early age (0 to 3) when the brain is developing, children can make great progress by the time they start kindergarten.
Treatment: Autistic children benefit from programs that help develop their communication, social and mental skills. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, some of the most common treatment options include speech therapy, diet and treatments that focus on improving relationships.
Resources Available to Help
If you have concerns about your child's development, don't wait – talk to your doctor or health care provider about getting an autism screening. The following services can also help:
The Autism Society of America (ASA). The Autism Society of America has chapters throughout California and provides information on symptoms and treatments. For more information, visit http://www.autism-society.org/