Autism. Your child is autistic. The diagnosis sends many parents into shock, their minds imagining the autistic savant played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. In fact the term autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a wide range of complex neurodevelopment disorders. All autism spectrum disorders are defined by deficits in three core areas: social skills, communication, and behavior/interests. The diagnosis encompasses everything from a milder form such as Asperger syndrome which often manifests itself in social impairments to completely nonverbal and nonsocial conduct.
ASD occurs across ethnic and socioeconomic groups. It is likely that you know a family affected by autism; experts estimate that three to six out of every 1,000 children have ASD. Autism diagnoses are on the rise. Blame for this has been cast on everything from immunizations to pollutants to simply better (and therefore higher rates of) diagnosis today.
According to the National Institute of Health, although ASD varies widely in severity and symptoms there are some early indicators such as:
- no babbling or pointing by age 1
- no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
- no response to name
- loss of language or social skills
- poor eye contact
- excessive lining up of toys or objects
- no smiling or social responsiveness.
Later indicators include:
- impaired ability to make friends with peers
- impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
- absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
- stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
- restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
- preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
- inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.
Parents who suggest their child may be autistic should speak with their pediatrician, who will likely then use a questionnaire mostly based on parental observations. If the possibility of ASD is suspected further evaluation would likely begin. Children under three can receive early intervention services from the North Carolina Infant and Toddler Program. Cabarrus, Iredell, Rowan, Stanly, and Union County residents may contact Gail Coor (704-786-9181) and Mecklenburg county residents may contact John Ellis (704-336-7100) for more information
Part two of this series focuses on diagnosis and how two local families responded upon discovering their sons were autistic.