National Autism Awareness Month

Cornerstone Family Healthcare Pediatrician, Dr. Alicia Pointer, DO

As we observe April as National Autism Awareness Month, one of Cornerstone’s pediatricians, Dr. Pointer, answered some frequently asked questions about the disorder and how to help your child if you suspect signs or symptoms.

What is autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a condition that affects children’s social skills, communication and behavior. It is made up of a spectrum of symptoms meaning that some children are affected differently than others. For example, some children with autism may have normal language development while others may rarely speak.

What are the symptoms of autism?

Many children with autism have normal motor skills and growth. Initially, they may seem to have typical development. Some early signs of autism include:

  • Speech or language delay
  • Loss of milestones
  • Does not respond to her name
  • Does not look at things that parent is looking at
  • Does not try to get parent to look at things that are interesting to him
  • Does not point
  • Difficulty making friends or interacting with other children
  • Overly sensitive to sounds, smells or touch
  • Does not do imaginative or pretend play
  • Frequent repetitive movements such as rocking or hand flapping
  •  Trouble understanding others’ facial expressions or feelings
  • Poor eye contact or too much eye contact

How is autism diagnosed?

There is no single test for autism. Autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or brain scan. A pediatrician, developmental specialist, neurologist or psychiatrist can diagnose autism by talking to you and your child and observing your child in the office. There are some developmental tests and screening tools that can help diagnose autism or rule out other diagnoses. Your child’s pediatrician will likely do an autism screening called the MCHAT at 18 months and 2 years old.

How is autism treated?

There is no single treatment or medicine for autism. Instead, the treatment of autism involves addressing a child’s individual challenges. There are several interventions that may help children with autism improve their language, social and self-care skills. Early Intervention is a program for children up to age 3 who have developmental delays. It provides in-home services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy based on a child’s needs. There are other specific therapies such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (or ABA) that help children improve the way they interact with other people. The local school system may provide services for school-age children.

What should I do if I am worried about my child’s development?

Trust your instincts and talk to your pediatrician. Children develop at different paces so a child may seem delayed compared to some peers but still be meeting milestones for her age. Also, some behaviors, such as head banging when frustrated or hand flapping when excited, are commonly seen in typically developing children who do not have autism. The earlier you talk to your pediatrician, the sooner your child can get the intervention and support that he needs.

Where can I find more information?

The following websites have helpful information about autism that is written for parents by experts:

healthychildren.org

CDC-Learn the Signs. Act Early.

 

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