April is Autism Awareness Month, and today, April 2, 2020, is World Autism Awareness Day. The therapists at First Steps work with many children with autism, and they teach us something new every day! In this article, we will be discussing what autism is, what to do if you are concerned that your child may have autism, what autism treatment looks like, and further resources for families with children who have received an autism diagnosis.
What Is Autism?
According to the CDC, "Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause social,
communication and behavioral challenges." While people with autism don't typically look different than others, they may behave differently than most people. Some children with ASD grow up to be very independent, while others continue to need assistance with most daily tasks. Autism is a spectrum, so people with the disorder present with a wide variety of skill levels and intelligence.
As testing for ASD has increased in recent years and people have become more familiar with the diagnosis, many more parents have begun to wonder if their child(ren) may be on the spectrum. While we don't know exactly what causes autism, research indicates that genetics and advanced age of parents are linked to the disorder. Boys are about 4 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ASD. Some have even had concerns that vaccines may put children at a higher risk of ASD, but studies show that no link exists between being vaccinated and developing autism.1
How Do I Know If My Child Has Autism?
It is difficult to diagnose ASD definitively, because no medical test exists to identify it with absolute certainty. Typically, a doctor examines a child's behavior and developmental history to determine whether or not that child has ASD. Currently, most children are not diagnosed with ASD until at least age 2, but sometimes children 18 months or younger can receive the diagnosis.
Some early signs of ASD include
Poor eye contact
Child with little interest in other kids or caregivers
Becoming upset from minor changes in routine
As children with ASD grow older, they may struggle to make and keep friends, communicate with others, and understand how to behave appropriately at school or work.
If your child displays one or more of the early signs mentioned above, it is recommended that you ask your pediatrician for a developmental screening. Developmental and behavioral screenings are recommended for all children by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) at ages 9 months, 18 months, and 30 months. Additionally, it is recommended that children receive ASD-specific screenings at ages 18 months and 24 months, with additional screening suggested if a child is at high risk of developing ASD. If a screening tool indicates that your child isn't meeting necessary developmental milestones, your child may receive a comprehensive developmental evaluation. This is a detailed evaluation that can lead to an official diagnosis and recommendations for specific interventions.
What Does Treatment for ASD Look Like?
At this time, there is no cure for ASD. Early intervention treatments have been shown to help a child's development. A child with ASD may be referred to occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and/or early childhood special education, depending on the specific needs of the child. These therapists may help the child learn how to walk, interact with others, and talk. Children who are at risk of developmental disabilities may be eligible for early intervention services until age three. If you have concerns about your child's development, set up an evaluation with your local Child Find to determine if your child would benefit from early intervention treatment.
There is a wealth of resources out there for people with ASD and their families. Autism Speaks has put together a thorough list of resources that you can search for by state, life stage, and level of support. If you are looking for further resources, please visit the website below.