By Cammie Jones

 

Autism is diagnosed in 1 of 68 children and more often in boys. As a parent at this point in my life with two teens and a preteen, I know of many families who have a child with autism. When I think about the kids I know, I don’t automatically refer to him or her as the autistic one. I first think about how amazing the child is and how, even though they may have special needs, that label really doesn’t play into my description of each of them. With that said, here is a simplified guide about what you need to know about autism.

1. What is autism?

According to the Mayo Clinic, autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. The term “spectrum” in autism spectrum disorder refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity.

2. What are the early signs?

This list includes many signs that are attributed to autism. Signs and symptoms start usually between 12 and 18 months. Sometimes autism will not appear until the child is two or older.

Here are some early warning signs from the National Autism Center’s website:

• no social smiling by 6 months

• no one-word communications by 16 months

• no two-word phrases by 24 months

• no babbling, pointing, or meaningful gestures by 12 months

• poor eye contact

• not showing items or sharing interests

• unusual attachment to one particular toy or object

• not responding to sounds, voices, or name

• loss of skills at any time

There are different patterns of autism development in children. Some may show a few warning signs immediately and not reach some of the age-related milestones. Others may seem to be developing at a normal rate but then gradually begin to show signs. Another group may start not being able to do certain actions or things they could do easily at an earlier age. They may regress both with their behaviors and their words.

3. Is autism caused by childhood vaccinations?

Many years ago the media buzz was that vaccinating your child could cause autism. Well, fast forward two decades and although there are many who may still believe this, the facts don’t hold true. Autism is not caused by vaccinations according to extensive research on this in the past 20 years.  Always talk with your doctor before discontinuing vaccines to get the most expert and up-to-date advice and information. Don’t go down the rabbit hole of information on the Internet. Talk to an expert first!

4. Is there a cure for autism and if not, how can treatment help?

There is no cure for autism but early detection and immediate treatment, once diagnosed, is the most effective way to help an autistic child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends testing children twice before age 2. At present, the evidence-based treatments for autism are educational/therapy related and not medical, according to Leslie Shulman, MD, author of US News & World Report’s “10 Things Everyone Should Know About Autism.” They’re intensive in nature and based upon behavioral principles.

According to Rebecca Landa, Ph.D, CCC-SLP, author of “10 Things You Need to Know about Autism,” (parents.com)  the most effective early intervention is comprehensive and aims to improve social, communication, cognitive, motor and behavior regulation skills within predictable semi-structured routines. Most children want to have friends but need help in developing those social skills that come so easily to children without autism.

5. Steps to take if you think your child has autism?

Call your pediatrician first. Make an appointment and bring in examples and instances where you witnessed unusual behavior. Your doctor should then do a screening test such as the M-Chat (modified checklist for autism in toddlers), which can help determine if your child is showing any symptoms of autism. These tests are not meant to diagnose but to lead you to the next step – getting a diagnosis. Specialists such as child psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists or developmental behavior pediatricians can evaluate your child and make a positive diagnosis. In addition to the medical side of a diagnosis, there are many agencies in the community that can help, such as EIS (early intervention service), that your physician can direct you to.

Autism awareness and treatment options have increased for the better over the years. With understanding and more research, there are many options for families who have autistic children. Remember, an autistic child is still a child who likely will have more challenges than the average kid. There is not just one treatment that will necessarily help your child so do your research and know what makes your child tick as you journey through the world of autism.

This article appears in the June/July 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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