By Kathy Hubbard
If you read this column regularly you know how regularly I say, “Early detection is critical,” or words to that effect. And, I’m going to say it again today. The sooner a child showing symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed, the quicker a plan can be made for treatment.
Your healthcare provider can start screening your baby for signs of this developmental and communication disorder as early as his or her first well-child visit. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening all children for autism when 18 and 24 months of age.
“This type of screening can identify children with significant developmental and behavioral challenges early, when they may benefit most from intervention, as well as those with other developmental difficulties. For screening to be effective, it must be applied to all children, not only those with symptoms,” the AAP says.
The Centers for Disease Control says that one in 68 or 1.5 percent of children was diagnosed with ASD in the U.S. in 2012. That there hasn’t been a change in this statistic since 2002 is perhaps more interesting than significant, but a fact worthy of being mentioned on the CDC’s website.
“Most children identified with ASD had concerns about their development noted in their health and/or special education records by age three years. Yet, less than half of children with ASD received a comprehensive developmental evaluation by this same age,” the CDC says.
Most of the websites I researched said that parents should trust their instincts about their child’s development and should take their concerns to their healthcare professional right away.
“Some children with ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms may not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had,” the CDC explains.
The following are a few of the possible red flags, but please note that children without ASD might also have some of these symptoms. Just another good reason to talk to your medico.
A person with ASD might not respond to their name by 12 months of age. He or she at 14 months might not point at objects to show interest, like pointing at an airplane flying overhead. By 18 months a child should be playing “pretend” games, like feeding a doll.
Children with ASD may avoid eye contact and want to be alone. A new study conducted by University of Vermont tracked children’s eye movement and came to the conclusion that “children with ASD were more likely to focus on a person’s mouth as they spoke instead of making and holding eye contact. Children with ASD were particularly likely to focus on a person’s mouth when the subject grew emotional in nature, such as what made the children sad or frightened.” Having delayed speech and language skills; repeating words or phrases over and over; giving unrelated answers to questions are also signs a child may have ASD. A child with ASD may prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might only cuddle on their own terms.
He or she may have trouble adapting when their routine changes.They may have difficulty expressing their needs using typical words or motions, and they may repeat or echo words or phrases said to them. These are just a few of the many signs, for more go to the CDC’s website.
Your healthcare provider can look at your child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy one. There isn’t a simple blood test for ASD.
And, sadly, there’s no cure. “However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development,” the CDC says. “Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Therefore it is important to talk to your child’s doctor as soon as possible.” See? I told you so.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.