04-09-2013 (Dayton, OH) -
The CDC currently estimates that one in every 88 children has autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, a recent government survey of parents, released at the end of March 2013 by U.S. health officials, suggests that one in every 50 children in the United States may have been diagnosed with autism at some time in their life. Experts at Dayton Children’s note that these differing numbers may suggest that many children may go undiagnosed and it is important for parents to recognize and understand the signs early.
Autism is a developmental disability characterized by difficulties in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. While autism can affect children as early as 12 months, symptoms most commonly emerge before the age of three, with a vast majority of kids with autism identified by age eight.
April is Autism Awareness Month and the experts at Dayton Children’s want both parents and caretakers to be aware of the signs of autism and what to do if they suspect their child may have this developmental disability.
What causes autism?
Developments in research have suggested that there are multiple reasons why autistic symptoms arise. Researchers believe that autism may be linked to a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development. According to Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, many risk factors involve events before and during birth. Risk factors may include advanced parental age at time of conception, maternal illness during pregnancy and certain difficulties during birth.
Autism Speaks outlines the following “red flags” to indicate risk of autism:
- No big smiles or warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
- No back and forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months
- No babbling by 12 months
- No back and forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No meaningful two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- Any loss of speech, babbling, or social skills at any age
If you think your child may be showing signs of autism, Eileen Kasten, MD, medical director of child development at Dayton Children’s, offers some advice to parents.
“Schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned that he or she may be showing symptoms of autism”, says Dr. Kasten. “Enrollment in specialized preschools through the local school system as early as possible is critical. You should try to establish a predictable routine at home, as well as investigate all possible treatment options including speech therapy and behavior therapy, enrolling your child as soon as possible.”
Although there is no medical cure for autism, it’s important for parents to learn the early signs of autism and understand the developmental milestones your child should be achieving in each stage of life. However, there are various behavioral therapies and interventions designed to help sustain developmental issues, including:
- Speech therapy. This canhelp your child improve their language and social skills to communicate more effectively
- Occupational therapy. This may help a child with autism to learn to process information from the senses (sight, sound, hearing, touch, and smell) in more manageable ways
- Physical therapy. This canhelpimprove any deficiencies in coordination and motor skills
While parents and primary caregivers are left with the long-term difficulties of children with autism, it’s important to remember that they don’t do it alone. Teachers are also faced with challenges dealing with children with autism in the classroom. For teachers, it is helpful to remember that children with autism benefit from the following:
- Structure and consistency. Children with autism thrive in structured environments. Establish a routine and keep it as consistent as possible.
- Individualized instruction. It is important to structure a suitable learning environment for children with autism to provide some individualized attention and instruction to satisfy their special learning needs. Also, students with ASD benefit from a low teacher-student ratio.
- Visual cues and supports. Children with autism learn faster and with greater ease when visuals cues are used. Remember to keep explanations as short and simple as possible and give written/visual instructions instead of verbal instructions whenever you can.
- Sufficient interaction with other students. Classmates in the regular education environment can enhance a student with ASD self-esteem, and their compassion and understanding of those who differ from the norm, by serving as peer models for behavior, communication, and socialization.
If you think your child might have ASD or you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, or acts, contact your child’s doctor. If you or the doctor is still concerned, ask the doctor for a referral to a specialist who can do an in-depth evaluation of your child.
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