According to Autism Speaks, 1 in every 59 children in the United States has some form of autism. The five major types of autism include: Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, Kanner’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, and childhood disintegrative disorder. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can affect speech, movement, learning, and social interactions. Though it can impact significant aspects of a child’s life, most children with autism can live perfectly normal lives with the right treatment and accommodations.
What are the signs of autism?
Diagnosing autism can be tricky. “It’s not like taking a simple blood test,” says Donna Murray, vice president of Clinical Programs and head of the Autism Treatment Network of Autism Speaks. “It’s all clinical symptoms that can be somewhat different because it’s a spectrum.” That being said, not every case of ASD is the same, and sometimes the symptoms are too mild to detect.
Signs and symptoms of autism include: delayed or lack of social communication and interaction skills, restricted or repetitive behaviors and/or interests, and other characteristics such as delayed language, cognitive, and motor skills, intense (or, sometimes, too apathetic) emotional reactions, and hypersensitivities to sound and textures. Some with autism can have epilepsy, OCD, depression, and other mental disorders. Autism can be detected in children as early as 18 months old, with 2 years being the age at which a diagnosis can be most reliable; however, most people do not get diagnosed until much later. It’s important to keep track of your child’s developmental milestones so they can get any necessary treatment as early as possible.
How can autism be treated?
“Primary care physicians, psychologists, and educators can help with early identification in a number of ways,” Murray answers. She oversees the Autism Speaks Treatment Network, a team of professionals who answer questions and provide resources such as tool kits for families of autistic children and information on where to get a diagnosis. You can get a diagnosis via developmental monitoring and screening in which you and your child’s pediatrician will track their development and keep note of their skills and abilities. A screening is more formal, as it can be a regular part of your child’s wellness visits even if there is no need for concern. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children get screened at 9, 18, and 30 months. For autism screenings, children should be evaluated at 18 and 24 months.
There is no fix-all treatment for autism spectrum disorder; rather, the symptoms are treated to improve your child’s day-to-day life. Treatment can be given at home, at school, at a doctor’s office, and in your community. There are behavioral (Applied Behavior Analysis), developmental therapies (speech, occupational, and physical), and educational therapies available for children who need them. Many schools provide accommodations for children with learning disabilities such as autism, and the New Orleans community is full of sensory-friendly events for children who are sensitive to lights, noises, and textures. The Louisiana State Museum, Louisiana Children’s Museum, and Audubon Nature Institute are some places that host sensory-friendly events and spaces in their facility.
How can I support a child with autism?
Children with autism have very specific needs in order to function. If a person with ASD becomes overstimulated or frustrated, their brain may shut down and cause them to have a breakdown. It’s not because they are immature; rather, their brain is wired to process certain things differently, which means they may not be able to handle certain situations (loud noises, bright lights, physical touch) the way a neurotypical person would. They don’t always have the appropriate verbal or physical coping skills for the situation. So, if you know someone who is autistic, whether it’s your child or your child’s friend or classmate, it’s important to understand how that child prefers to communicate. For example, if they do not like physical touch, it’s best to not hug them or touch them in any other way. The child may also communicate with their hands or with sounds rather than their words. Be sure to learn this child’s nonverbal communication so they will feel comfortable and understood.
People with autism usually have a special interest as well. Whether it’s insects, math, technology, or art, they possess a deep knowledge of a specific thing that brings them joy. Showing an interest in it will encourage them to be themselves, especially if their classmates are not so understanding of their disability. Providing them with the proper care and support will give them a safe space where they can communicate and play as they desire.
Don’t wait for a diagnosis to seek help for your child. Start treatment as soon as you notice any signs they may have autism, as waiting for your child to “outgrow” the problems may lead to said problems worsening as they get older. As you seek professional help for your child, it’s important for you to educate yourself as well and become an expert on their behavior, as well as an advocate for them.