By Carolina Boyd, Communications Associate
Every year April 2 marks a day in which the world unites in one common goal—to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The United Nations created World Autism Awareness Day in 2007 as a way to advocate for the rights of those living with autism. ASD refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges in social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States. ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. However, boys are diagnosed more often than girls. While there is no cure for autism, early diagnosis can lead to improved quality of life and better outcomes.
“Appropriately diagnosing children with autism is necessary in order for them to receive the services and support they need to reach their full potential,” said Dr. Kendra Lystad, Pediatrician at Legacy Community Health. “Children can be diagnosed as early as 18 months, sometimes even earlier. An evaluation done by an experienced provider at the age of two has been shown to be very reliable.”
The CDC developed the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” Program to help families monitor their child’s overall development, which can help in recognizing the early signs of autism. Some of which include:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Delayed speech and communication skills
- Being upset by relatively minor changes
- Unexpected reactions to sounds, tastes, sights, touch and smells
- Focusing on a narrow range of interests or objects
- Engaging in repetitive behavior such as flapping hands or rocking
“Increased awareness of autism has been beneficial in many ways. Parents and other caregivers are now better able to notice early signs of autism and pursue evaluations at younger ages,” said Lystad. “Because of that there is an increasingly robust autism community that can provide support and education to patients and families. “
Legacy is committed to helping families of children with autism. Primary care physicians evaluate for signs of ASD and refer patients for additional testing and behavioral health related therapies if needed. Legacy’s clinical social work department helps to bridge the gap for families so they can get the services they need to help their children. Support group meetings for parents are available in both English and Spanish, to help parents cope with the stress and demands related to having a child with autism.
“In the group meetings, parents discuss and receive education on topics of interest as well as learn about available resources and services. Parents are able to spend time sharing their experiences and developing a support system,” said Priscila Leal, Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Legacy Community Health.
Legacy’s English Autism Support Group meets on the third Wednesday of each month from 11am-12pm. Meetings were previously held at the Legacy San Jacinto Clinic in Baytown but are currently conducted through Zoom.
Legacy’s Spanish Support Group for Parents of Children with Autism meets the first and third Tuesdays of most months from 5pm-6pm. Meetings previously held at Legacy’s Southwest Clinic now meet via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Click here to learn more about Autism. To find out how Legacy can support children with autism, as well as their families, contact your Legacy pediatrician or health care provider. You can make an appointment by calling 832-548-5000 or by visiting our website.