Parents have plenty of concerns about their children from birth. With so much information available about an increase in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), it is no wonder that many parents are concerned that their child may be affected by an ASD.
Autism is complex and there is no known cause, prevention, or cure. While there has been much speculation about the causal connection between vaccinations and autism, there remains no scientific proof linking the two.
There are, however, ways to identify, diagnose, and treat ASDs. No medical tests can rule out autism, so it is behavioral markers – often first noticed by parents – that identify children with ASDs.
Most autism is diagnosed before age 3 and can be diagnosed as early as age 18 months. Parents and caregivers are in a unique position to notice what behaviors may point to a diagnosis of autism. Because ASD is a spectrum disorder, the severity of symptoms will differ from child to child in correlation to the severity of the particular child’s autism.
Although the symptoms and manifestations of ASDs vary, there are commonalities among those affected. Difficulty communicating, a lack of change in tone of voice or pitch, lack of showing gestures, lack of response to one’s name, lack of joyful expressions, and lack of appropriate eye gaze are all symptoms of autism. Repetitive gestures or repetitive manipulation of objects can also be signs of autism. Children affected by autism may seem to lose skills they had previously mastered. These symptoms are not absolutes, but if your child has one or more of these symptoms, then consulting with your child’s healthcare provider is important so that your child can be evaluated.
Regular well-baby visits during which children are evaluated for developmental milestones are crucial to determining any developmental delays. While parents may be hesitant to voice concerns about their child’s development, thinking a child may “grow out of” a phase, voicing concern is imperative to getting timely assistance. When diagnosing ASDs, time is of the essence. The sooner a child can be evaluated and diagnosed, if appropriate, then the sooner treatment and intervention can begin.
As with any other aspect of parenting, knowledge is power. Knowing what milestones that normally developing babies and toddlers should reach and when allows parents to evaluate whether their child is reaching those milestones appropriately. Regular visits to the pediatrician during which parents discuss these milestones and voice their concerns are equally crucial to obtaining an early diagnosis of ASD if such a diagnosis is indicated.
While not curable, ASDs are certainly treatable. Once a diagnosis has been obtained, pediatricians will refer patients to specialists for further assessment and for treatments and interventions as indicated. With early detection and treatment, children with ASDs can improve significantly.