April is World Autism Awareness Month! For the rest of the month I will be sharing information, facts, and tips on Autism. I am so excited to be talking about Autism all month long! I have always had a passion for Autism and I have always been fascinated with Autism and the behaviors that it can sometimes come with. Autism is often misunderstood… So I’m hoping to get rid of a few of those misconceptions with a few of the most commonly asked questions on Autism.
What is Autism?
Autism is an umbrella term for a group of brain disorders. These disorders interfere with a child’s ability to communicate and interact normally with others (close family members included!) It is distinguished by a wide variation of social, communication and cyclical behaviors that are considered out of the norm for children. The signs if Autism can be very subtle or they can be very noticeable and severe. (See signs and symptoms) There is such a huge range of behaviors that may have different symptoms of autism that the exact term for the cluster of disorders is, Autism Spectrum Disorder. (ASD)
How Common Is Autism?
Autism rates seem to be growing! (We will discuss this in a minute) Approximately 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (here on out referred to as ASD) before they are eight years old. Interestingly, ASD is more common in boys. 1 in 54 boys are diagnosed with autism compared to 1 in 252 girls.
Why is autism so much more common now?
Well we aren’t 100% sure. But it is more prevalent then it was a few years ago. In 2006 1 in 110 children were being diagnosed with autism, where now 1 in 88 are being diagnosed.So, whats the deal? There could be a few different reasons. For instance, we know more about the disorder now this allows parents to spot the early signs of autism in toddlers and bringing those concerns to the attention of their pediatrician. The rise in autism could also be due to a wider range of behaviors that are now being labeled as part of the autism spectrum. Environmental factors could also be playing a part. (exposure to pesticides, chemicals and viruses).
What Causes Autism?
Again, experts are not positive what causes the Autism. But, experts do think that it is a combination of genetics and exposure to environmental factors or pollutants.
BUT!! One thing we DO know for SURE is that Autism is NOT caused by vaccines. In 1998 a study it was suggested that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. However, many large-scale, credible, studies have discredited that connection. The Doctor who proposed the link between MMR and Autism was found to have falsified data and all findings and studies were retracted. The doctor also lost his practice and his license.
What are the signs and symptoms of Autism
(Click here for a more comprehensive list and explanations of signs and symptoms)
Disconnection to others
Apparent lack of empathy
Indifferent to human interaction
Delayed language Development
Prone to non-verbal communication
Difficulty understanding figurative expressions
Sensitivity to external stimuli
Slow to smile or laugh
Resists cuddling or holding
Doesn’t point at objects
Avoids eye contact
Fails to respond to name by 12 months
(plus the above symptoms)
Doesn’t engage in pretend play by 18 months (like caring for a doll)
Prefers to play alone
Doesn’t understand feelings in other people
Doesn’t speak or speaks with an abnormal rhythm or tone
Gives unrelated answers to questions
Appears to ignore you when you make a request
Repeats specific routines or rituals
Throws temper tantrums in response to minor changes in routine
Intentionally- and repeatedly inflicts harm on him/herself
Becomes obsessively interested in something
Moves Spastically -flaps hands, rocks, or spins his body continuously
Reacts to sounds, smells or touch in an unusual way.
Has unusual food preferences
Keep in mind toddlers and children have some funky behaviors! If you see your child has one of these symptoms, don’t freak out! If you feel there is something going on with your toddler/child- do not be afraid to ask your pediatrician!!!
How do I get my child tested for Autism? And who diagnoses?
Your pediatrician or a psychologist will be the person who will diagnose your child. Call your pediatrician immediately if you have questions or concerns about your child. In the mean time, if you have concerns about your child’s behavior or development your school district is also a great resource. Each school district offers special education services! There should also be a birth to three program in your area. (they may be called Up to Three, Birth to Three, Early Intervention etc…) Call your local school district for your child to be tested in these programs. If your child is under three they will be tested by the infant and toddler programs listed above.
Once your child is three they will be tested by the school district for a delay. If your child qualifies they can be enrolled in services through the district to help work on your child’s delays. They will perform a series of developmental screeners and tests as well as speech testing to see if there is a significant delay.
What is going to happen when my child is tested for Autism?
Your pediatrician should be completing a ASD screening at 18 and 24 months. This is the first step toward further testing. If your pediatrician suspects a problem you will be asked to schedule a visit for a more thorough examination to not only look for ASD symptoms but to also rule out any other issues. (ear infections, dental problems, hearing loss, and other disorders that could be behind the symptoms.) They may also suggest you see a childhood psychologist, speech therapist, or a neurologist. These are just other professionals who can evaluate your child’s thinking, language, behavior, development and motor skills.
Don’t be afraid to get your child checked out! The sooner we detect problems the sooner we can begin to work on those. Early intervention is KEY to success!!!
Stay Tuned For more info on Autism!!