Early Diagnosis and Intervention of Autism Can Help. So Can Legacy’s Support Group for Parents.

By Dana Kober, M.D. – Behavioral Health

A neighbor, a kid in your child’s class, your boss’s daughter, someone in your church: It seems we are hearing more and more children are being diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The Center for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with ASD.

ASD is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. The disorder impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others and can lead to restricted repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities. These issues can cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning, as well as unique strengths and differences.

Recent research[1] confirms that appropriate screening can identify children at risk as young as one year. Early diagnosis and intervention can improve learning, communication, and social skills in young children with ASD.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child doctor visits at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months of age. They also recommend that children be screened specifically for ASD at 18 and 24 months of age.

More obvious signs of ASD tend to appear between two and three years of age, but knowing typical developmental milestones for young children can help you be aware if your child is showing signs earlier.  The CDC’s program “Learn the Signs. Act Early” has free tools and information to help you identify developmental stages at www.cdc.gov/ActEarly.

The following early warning signs may indicate your child would benefit from an evaluation by your pediatrician for autism spectrum disorder.

  • Doesn’t respond with a smile or happy expression by 6 months
  • Doesn’t mimic sounds or facial expressions by 9 months
  • Doesn’t babble or coo by 12 months
  • Doesn’t gesture — such as point or wave — by 14 months
  • Doesn’t say single words by 16 months
  • Doesn’t play “make-believe” or pretend by 18 months
  • Doesn’t say two-word phrases by 24 months
  • Loses previously acquired language or social skills at any age

Autismspeaks.org has a simple, free, online autism screen, M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) which can help you determine if a professional should evaluate your child.

Our philosophy is simple: We think children in our community should be connected to the best possible care, regardless of ability to pay. Parents should have the confidence and assurance of knowing their child’s care is as exceptional as it is personal. Our team of psychologists and psychiatrists screen for and treat autism. Legacy’s Autism Support Group, a program for Spanish speaking parents, a first of its kind in Houston, is there for parents of autistic children to meet one another and share information.

[1] Pierce K, Carter C, Weinfeld M, et al. Detecting, Studying, and Treating Autism Early: The One-Year Well-Baby Check-Up Approach. J Pediatr. September 2011;159(3):458-465.