DOCTOR IS IN: Autism and your child

By Catherine Trapani, Ph.D.

Media coverage has heightened awareness of autism. Consequently, novice and seasoned parents alike are increasingly vigilant about their children’s development. While some children meet motor, language, and social milestones according to schedule, others are slow to demonstrate the skills that parents anticipate. Sometimes, there is a fine line between children who are developing normally, and children who are exhibiting developmental delays.

So here’s a word of caution.

The cause of autism in not yet known. It affects each child differently. Some children are mildly affected while others experience severe symptoms. Therefore, autism is considered to be a spectrum of disorders.

According to the CDC, currently, one in 150 children is diagnosed with autism. Identifying one in 94 males, boys are four times more likely than girls to be on the autism spectrum. Despite the strides that geneticists have made in identifying genetic markers, there is no medical “test” for autism. Diagnoses are based on the presence or absence of behaviors as reported by parents and observed by clinicians.

During clinical interviews, many parents report that they were concerned early on about their child. Often, they were encouraged to wait for the child’s skills to improve with time. What should parents be looking for? There are a few “red flags,” related to the absence or limited use of certain critical skills. Some examples of warning signs parents should look for are:

• Not using social smiles or joyful expressions by six months or eye contact when their name is called by twelve months
• Not using back-and-forth sharing of sounds, facial expressions or face-to-face play by nine months
• Not using gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving or playing social games by 12 months
• Not using independent two-word meaningful phrases by 24 months and not following 2-to-3 step directions at three years.
• Presenting a loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

Pediatricians are now screening children for autism at the two-year well-baby visit. However, parents should consult their pediatrician with concerns at any time. They will either learn that all is well or that further assessment is needed.

Although there is no cure for autism, it may be treated through a combination of educational and behavioral interventions combined with medication and other therapies. Children benefit when they receive intervention services as soon as they are diagnosed. Early intervention focuses on developing communication, social, and cognitive skills. It can be effective in avoiding the emergence of difficult behaviors. Parents are encouraged to be knowledgeable about the therapies available. You can always choose to be active in organizations researching the disorder.

Atlanta, what has been your experience? Share your stories, share your ideas. Post.

  • Catherine Trapani, Ph.D., Program Director of Education at Marcus Autism Center an affiliate of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine.
  • Videos from Autism Speaks demonstrating these behaviors.
  • For more information on early signs, parents can visit First Signs or the CDC.
  • Information provided by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on this site is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for questions you may have regarding your health and medical condition. If you rely on information available through this website, you do so at your own risk. You are solely responsible for any damage or loss you may incur that results from your use of or reliance on any material or information provided by Children’s through this website.

One comment Add your comment

James Kurtz

May 9th, 2009
9:56 pm

The articles suggest that extensive therapy can help a child with Autism. Well these therapies are expensive and can drive the average family to the brink of bankrupcy as in my family’s case. These therapies were helping my son, but the money ran out. There was a bill before the Georgia Senate and House to force insurance companies to assist parents paying for these therapies. Our legislators table the bill for further study. South Carolina and Florida already have such bills, I guess they did not feel they could rely on their finding or are they protecting insurance company profits in this state.