October 3, 2019
1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a group of conditions known to cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. They include autism – which is the most common, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD).
Autism appears in early childhood. Symptoms typically include:
- Communication problems such as speech delay
- Lack of eye contact
- Social withdrawal
- Hypersensitivity to sounds, smells, touch, food textures, and/or visual stimulation
- Repetitive behaviors such as rocking and arm flapping
No one knows what causes autism but experts believe it’s genetic. What doctors do know is that children of older parents are likelier to have autism. Moreover, parents who have one child with ASD are likelier to have a second affected child.
There has been a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of autism over the last decade. Doctors are unsure whether the disorder is on the rise or if it’s being diagnosed more effectively.
Most parents of children with autism notice symptoms before the child’s first birthday. It could be anything from vision and hearing problems to social and communication challenges.
Although autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months, most children tend to be diagnosed a little bit later around age 4. Making a diagnosis is challenging because there’s no medical test, and the symptoms and severity vary greatly.
Autism diagnosis is broken down into two main steps: Developmental Screening and Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation.
Developmental screening evaluates how a child learns, speaks, behaves, and moves. This is done during regular well-child doctor visits between 9 and 30 months of age.
The second step, Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation, is done by a specialist such as a developmental pediatrician, child neurologist or child psychologist. The specialist looks at the child’s behavior and development; parents are also interviewed. There is a good chance that hearing, vision, genetic, and neurological tests will be conducted.
Receiving a diagnosis of autism can leave parents feeling overwhelmed. However, knowing where to get information and help eases some of the fear and confusion.
Autismspeaks.org is a great source of information about autism. The organization through its Early Access to Care initiative helps parents figure out when and where to get early intervention services for their children.
Autism Society’s autismsource.org is another resource that offers a comprehensive database of credible and reliable autism-related services and supports.
Lastly, local groups and parent network organizations can be a great source of support. Your physician or child developmental specialist should be able to provide referrals to such groups and organizations.
Early intervention can improve overall development, helping children with autism gain essential social skills. Thankfully, parents don’t have to wait for an official diagnosis to start using most of the resources and services. A diagnosis of developmental delays or learning challenges is all that’s needed to access vital information and resources.