Hearing that your child has a disorder is nothing any parent wants to hear, but often many developmental disorders are discovered when the child is fairly young. This isn't always the case with autism, though, as the median age children are diagnosed is around eight years old. An autism research center has partnered with a group in Georgia to raise awareness of the early signs of autism. The earlier an autism spectrum disorder is recognized, the sooner the parents and child can gain access to treatment.
According to the NIH, autism spectrum disorder is "a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior." Doctors aren't aware of any single cause of the disorder, but some people believe that it may be inherited or caused by environmental factors, such as immunizations.
The Marcus Autism Center is working with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning to train childcare providers to identify the early signs of autism. Autism Speaks, an organization that advocates for the disorder, lists the following symptoms as early signs of autism:
No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter;
No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months;
No babbling by 12 months;
No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, reaching or waving by 12 months;
No words by 16 months;
No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months;
Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age.
While having a few of those symptoms doesn't necessarily mean the child has autism, it may warrant a discussion with the child's healthcare provider. Autism Speaks also offers an online screening for parents or other caregivers who want to see if their child is at risk for autism.
Don Mueller, the executive director of the Marcus Autism Center, emphasizes how important early detection of autism is. "Today, if I get a phone call and someone says they've got an 8-year-old who is unable to speak and is in need of our help, I know we can help that child. But we cannot help that child nearly as much as we could have if we got that same phone call when that child was 2," said Mueller.
Autism occurs in about 1 out of every 88 kids. There are different forms of autism, including Asperger Syndrome, autistic disorder, Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder. While some forms are more severe than others, with early detection there is a much better chance of the child getting help to learn necessary skills.
Jennie Couture, who is in charge of the autism training program says, "It's families, the community, teachers, the other folks the child comes into contact with. When you start with a very early diagnosis and identification, you can get all those folks up to speed to support that child for all those hours of engagement."