For April, Autism Awareness Month, we want to share helpful information and guidance for families of children with autism or families who suspect that their child might have autism. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability and refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. There is not just one autism but many subtypes. Studies are still underway to find the exact causes but research to date suggest it is mostly influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Each child with Autism can be affected differently with their own distinct set of strengths and challenges. What we do know is that early intervention is always best for the child and many children with ASD can lead healthy and happy lives.
Some of the early signs of autism that can show up in young children include delays in social and language skills, differences in how they interact with other people, joint attention (which occurs when the child is looking back and forth between an object and a person while interacting with the person), and regression in developmental milestones and skills during the toddler years.
One way to notice any of these signs is to stay on top of your child’s milestones and what to expect during each stage of your child’s life. Check out this resource from the CDC to learn about the different milestones in each age group. This is one of the many reasons it’s so important to stay up to date on your child’s routine well check visits so that we can monitor your child’s development. If ASD is suspected in your child, a full evaluation is needed before your child can be diagnosed. Evaluations include observations of your child’s behavior and social interactions, a detailed physical examination, developmental assessment of all skills, and a hearing test.
Early intervention options include therapies for speech-language, behavior, sensory integration, physical skills, and social skills. These interventions can help enhance your child’s skills. Making accommodations and adjustments for academic education can also help children with autism to learn more easily. For an example, many children with autism learn better visually and can follow instructions when drawn or demonstrated. Note that treatment for each child can look differently depending on the unique individual and their needs.
With the right treatment and support, your child can thrive and overcome their challenges from autism. Your pediatrician is also here to support your family and child and can point you to the right resources. In addition to treatment, when children with autism transition to adulthood, helping them prepare with the new changes can make that transition more smooth. Changes can be stressful for kids with autism, but there are plenty of resources to assist during the process, such as GotTransition.org. It’s also important to teach your kids independent skills, including making their healthcare appointments and decisions.
If you have any questions or concerns or if we can support your family, please don’t hesitate to call us.