April is Autism Awareness Month

autismAs parents we all fear that something could be wrong with our precious, perfect baby.  I understand that this deep seeded fear is uncomfortable at best, but knowledge is power and early intervention and treatment can make a big difference. My oldest son was always a little ‘different’ and we spent years trying to find a way to make sense and nurture his own individual needs. It was exhausting, frustrating and rendered me helpless, overwhelmed and broken on many occasions.  Thankfully perseverance and amazing teachers and care givers helped us weed through the many wrong suggestions until we found a diagnosis that made sense and finally made a change.

1 in 88 babies will be diagnosed with ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorders.  The number of children reported has increased since 1990 with unclear reasons.  A group of related, brain based disorders that effect a child’s behavior, social skills and communication are known as the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Included in the spectrum are Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not otherwise specified (PDD NOS)

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages all doctors to be aware of and assess for the signs or symptoms of these disorders at every well visit. A recommended Autism Specific Screening is done between 18-24 months old, but an evaluation can be done at any age if parents or any other professional, have concerns.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has listed some common signs and symptoms, to help parents and physicians identify and diagnose any potential disorder.

Social differences

  • Doesn’t look at objects or events a parent is looking at or pointing to
  • Doesn’t point to objects or events to get a parent to look at them
  • Doesn’t bring objects of personal interest to show to a parent
  • Doesn’t often have appropriate facial expressions
  • Unable to perceive what others might be thinking or feeling by looking at their facial expressions
  • Doesn’t show concern (empathy) for others
  • Unable to make friends or uninterested in making friends

Communication differences

  • Doesn’t point at things to indicate needs or share things with others
  • Doesn’t say single words by 16 months
  • Repeats exactly what others say without understanding the meaning (often called parroting or echoing)
  • Doesn’t respond to name being called but does respond to other sounds (like a car horn or a cat’s meow)
  • Refers to self as “you” and others as “I,” and may mix up pronouns
  • Often doesn’t seem to want to communicate
  • Doesn’t start or can’t continue a conversation
  • Doesn’t use toys or other objects to represent people or real life in pretend play
  • May have a good rote memory, especially for numbers, letters, songs, TV jingles, or a specific topic
  • May loose language or other social milestones, usually between the ages of 15 and 24 months (often called regression)

Behavioral differences (repetitive and obsessive behaviors)

  • Rocks, spins, sways, twirls fingers, walks on toes for a long time, or flaps hands (stereotypic behavior)
  • Likes routines, order, and rituals; has difficulty with change
  • Obsessed with a few or unusual activities, doing them repeatedly during the day
  • Plays with parts of toys instead of the whole toy (for example, spinning the wheels of a toy truck)
  • Doesn’t seem to feel pain
  • May be very sensitive or not sensitive at all to smells, sounds, lights, textures, and touch
  • Unusual use of vision or gaze—looks at objects from unusual angles


If ASD is diagnosed or suspected, parents should get a referral for specialists for early intervention (from ages 0-3) with a Speech therapist and/or Occupational therapist for social skills training.

Over age 3, a referral for the local school district that is skilled in the treatment and education of these children.

Parents need to become as familiar as possible with the available treatments and  programs available in their community to help and support their child to learn the skills necessary to live and thrive in the world, with an IEP – Individualized Education Plan.

The goal of all parents is to help their children reach their full potential with the help of all the available resources.

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