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Today is:
A Look at Autism
By Luana Pehler

The ‘Autism Buzz’ is sweeping the nation. It seems everywhere one turns, there is a new study on autism or a new theory or statistic popping up in the news. There are many theories and studies about autism and its causes. There are arguments about the most effective interventions. But what is autism and how do I know if my child is at risk?

I have been a behavioral therapist for children with autism for 6 years. I work with children in their homes to enhance their social and communicative skills. Through play time and structured activities, the child’s therapy team works on goals that help the child acclimate appropriately to school and society.

According to the Center for Disease Control, autism is one of a group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is a developmental disability that causes impairments in social interactions and communication, with the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. Many children with autism display unusual ways of learning, paying attention and reacting to different sensations. Latest statistics show that 1 in 150 children have an autism spectrum disorder. Boys are four times more likely to be affected.

Symptoms of autism may be detected in the first few months of life, but studies have shown that a majority of children show signs by 24 months old. Onset of autism is by age three. Each child with autism is different, but signs and symptoms of onset may be similar. Here is a list of possible symptoms a child with autism may display:

*Avoids eye contact and prefers to be alone

*Appears to be unaware when people talk to them, but responds to other noises

*Repeats or echoes words or phrases said to them, or repeats words or phrases in place of regular language

*Does not play ‘pretend’ games (example: does not turn a blanket into a ‘cape’)

*Repeats actions over and over again

*Has trouble adjusting to changes in routine

*Has trouble relating to others

*Unable to identify own or others’ feelings

*Loss of skills they once had (example: loss of words they once knew)

If you are concerned your child may have autism, there are steps you can take to getting your child diagnosed and support for your child, you and your family. Know the developmental milestones of children. The CDC has a link on their website. Trust your instincts. Be your child’s best advocate. Some doctors may say ‘they’ll grow out of it’ or ‘he’s just a little behind, we’ll check him at his next check up.” If something feels ‘off,’ be persistent. Ask your doctor for a referral to a developmental pediatrician.

Write down your concerns, including examples of the behaviors and symptoms that cause your suspicion. It’s easy to forget or get flustered at the doctor’s office. Having a list makes it easier to communicate clearly and effectively with the doctor about your concerns. Ask questions!!! Don’t be afraid to ask to see a different doctor if you feel so inclined. Trust your gut! If you receive a diagnosis, there are programs out there to assist you. If you don’t receive a diagnosis but still have concerns about your child’s development, you still have options.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act says that children under the age of three who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. Each state has an early intervention system that can be contacted for an evaluation.

For more information:

Center for Disease Control

National Institute of Mental Health

Autism Speaks

Autism Society of America

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