By Lynette Fraga,Ph.D., VP of Early Care & Education and Special Populations at Care.com
My nephew was born into a large extended family filled with great loveand hope for his promising future. Hewas an easy baby, rarely fussed, and was effortlessly cared for by family andfriends. My sister was grateful for hiseasy temperament as she attended school and worked hard for both of them. Yet as he grew older, there were markeddifferences in his development. Typicaldevelopmental milestones were missed and worry about his healthy growthincreased. Could he have Autism? It is a question many more parents are askingthese days.
A recent report released earlier this month by the Centers for DiseaseControl (CDC) reported 1:88 children in the United States have been identifiedwith an AutismSpectrum Disorder (ASD), a 23% increase since 2009. ASD is also 3-4 times more common in boysthan in girls. With more children beingdiagnosed at earlier ages, a growing number by 3 years old, parents are askingmore questions about their own child’s development. What should they do if they think somethingdoesn’t feel quite right about their child in their early years?
As the mother of two children, I recall recording many of theirdevelopmental milestones when they were little: their first smile, first words,first steps or first solid food. Myfriends and I would talk about what our children were accomplishing and sharearticles, websites, and books we had read. Most challenging were the fears that would creep in, like my sister’s,when it was becoming clearer that something wasn’t quite okay.
As parents we need to beempowered to discuss our concerns when we think something isn’t right withour child. In fact, we should “act early” becauseearly identification and earlier intervention means you can do more to supportyour child’s healthy development when there is a problem.
Here are some important steps to follow:
(1) Observeyour child – Childrendevelop at different rates and there is a range of “typical” development. Check out the CDC’s website to learn moreabout developmentalmilestones.
Some signs of Autism or red flags you may want to take particular noteof include:
a. Social Differences – Your child may notbe smiling as you expect or may not cuddle like other children. Eye contact maybe elusive and you may not get a response when you call their name.
b. Language/CommunicationDifferences –Your child may have language delays and is not reaching typical developmentalmilestone. For example, not waving“bye-bye” by 12 months, or not using words by 15-16 months.
c. Regression – Your child mayhave reached typically developing milestones, but is regressing and “losing”some of the skills they may have had.
It is important to recognize that everychild is different and can have different symptoms. Just because your child may have a red flagdoes not mean they have Autism. However,when you identify a concern it does warrant following up with yourpediatrician. Additional informationabout red flags can be found on the American Academy of Pediatrics website for parents.
(2) Talk toyour pediatrician – Ifyou are concerned about your child’s development, discuss your concerns withyour child’s doctor, make a list of your concerns, and be specific about whatyou are observing. This can be helpfulto guide the conversation and provide the pediatrician with helpful informationto support you and your child.
(3) Get adevelopmental screening – TheAmerican Academy for Pediatrics recommends screening for all children duringwell child visits at 9 , 18 , and 24 or 30 months. You don’t have to wait for your well childvisit! If you are concerned, talk to yourpediatrician and request a screening. Parents can also contact their state early intervention service or theirlocal school district to get an evaluation. Early identification is critical to promoting your child’s healthydevelopment and getting the support he or she needs.
It is also important to keep in mind aswell that many children with ASD have other kinds of disabilities orconditions. As with all children, each child with an ASD is unique, with his orher own gifts and challenges. Work and partnerwith your circle of care, team with the professionals and resource groups atyour disposal, and reach out for support when you need it. An excellent resource for parents beginningto address their child’s special needs is the National Dissemination Center for Childrenwith Disabilities.
My sister’s son was diagnosed with Autismas well as mild mental retardation and a type of Fragile X. She continues to be an amazing mother andadvocate for him. Their journey is stillsomewhat uncertain with more uncharted territory to navigate. When I visit my nephew, now 13 years old, wecelebrate with him all his accomplishments. He now reads on a third grade level, he is fascinated with dragons ofall kinds, and he loves every member of his family. He dreams of all of us “living in one bighouse.” He brings love and joy to ourhearts. He is an extraordinarilyexceptional child with an exceptional family who are supported by friends and professionals who CARE!