arly Detection of Autism
A recent news story[i] about early detection of autism indicated that children as young as two months could be identified as having a likelihood of the disability. The study found that babies who had reduced eye contact as infants tended to develop other autism characteristics as they got older. Of course early detection is a critical component of every therapeutic approach for children on the autism spectrum and this finding could allow for intervention to begin even earlier than before.
Signs and symptoms of autism vary from child to child. Children may have mild to severe impairments. Monitoring your child’s development is important. Don’t rely on your pediatrician alone to find developmental delays. The Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) provides lists of developmental milestones arranged by age. Consulting the checklist for your child’s age can give you information about possible developmental delays.
Early signs of autism in babies and toddlers include:
Doesn’t look at you when being fed,
Doesn’t smile back,
Doesn’t respond to name or familiar voice,
Doesn’t follow objects with eyes,
Doesn’t point or wave,
Doesn’t follow gestures when you point,
Doesn’t make noise to get your attention,
Doesn’t respond to cuddling,
Doesn’t imitate gestures or expressions,
Doesn’t reach out to be picked up,
Doesn’t play with others, or
Doesn’t ask for help or make requests.[ii]
If you are concerned, don’t take a wait and see approach. Trust your instincts. Any loss of speech, babbling, gestures, or social skills should be taken very seriously. If your child is age zero to three years contact First Steps (www.infirststeps.com) to request a developmental assessment for your child. First Steps can provide the assessments as well as any services that are needed for your child. This is a Federal program available throughout the United States.
As your child gets older the signs and symptoms of autism can become more diverse. There are many warning signs, but symptoms typically revolve around impaired social skills, speech and language difficulties, non-verbal language difficulties or inflexible behavior. If your child is over three and not yet age eligible for kindergarten, you may contact your local school system. Early Childhood Special Education programs are available through all public schools. This program will provide developmental assessments along with services needed to help your child develop more age appropriate skills.
Once a child is enrolled in the public schools, assessments and services will be provided until he/she graduations or reaches age twenty-two, whichever comes first. Before a student leaves the public school programs, the school staff along with the student and parents put adult services into place. These adult services include a wide variety of supports depending on the student’s needs.
The causes of autism continue to be a subject of debate. Most scientists agree it is most likely a result of a genetic vulnerability to the syndrome along with environmental factors that cause the predisposition to trigger. Regardless of the cause of the disorder, it is critical that intervention begins as early as possible. Early intervention provides the most positive results possible for a child’s future development.
[i] “Autistic Babies Reduce Eye Contact in Early Months”, Bloomberg Washington Newsletter, 11/07/13.
[ii] “Autism Symptoms & Early Signs”, www.HELPGUIDE.com