Do you know the signs of autism? Did you know that one in every 91 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism?
REALITY CHECK: A new study estimates that one in every 91 children in the U.S. ages 3 to 17 has an autism spectrum disorder. That report increases the current estimate of autism occuring in 1 in 150 children. The odds of having ASD are four times as large for boys than girls. The report, “Prevalence of Parent-Reported Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children in the US,” was published in Pediatrics, and conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services National Survey of Children’s Health, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, it is considered by mental health professionals as “the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States.”
My interest and concern about childhood autism began years ago (my kids would say “back with the dinosaurs”). While completing a masters in learning disabilities I worked for the Santa Clara Parks and Recreation Program. I was in charge of the program for kids with special needs. Several of those children were diagnosed as Autistic and I’ve never forgotten those kids–or their mothers.
The general belief in those days was that a “Refrigerator Mother” brought on the condition. I’m still haunted at the injustice done to those women who were some of the most loving moms I’ve known–so guilt-ridden believing that horrific notion. So let me be clear:
Asperger’s syndrome and Autism are neurological conditions–not psychological or behavioral issues–and neither of them is caused by “bad parenting.” And there are also varying degrees of Autism from very mild and high functioning (usually called Asperger or AD) to severely debilitating and low functioning (or Autistic). The most commonly held view among mental health professionals these days is that a child with symptoms anywhere on that range-from mild to severe-is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
We’ve come a long way in helping Autistic children from when I first taught. We’re now using research-based instruction. We’re more data-collection driven and we’re far better at recognizing better spectrum identification. We also recognize that the earlier the identification, the better our success in addressing our children’s needs.
That’s why I included Autism Spectrum Disorder as one of the 101 modern-day parenting issues in The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (pages 477-487). If you have a copy you’ll find signs of Autism spectrum disorder, best new research, four factors to know if the child’s behavior is just “quirky or too far out and should be checked, tips to know if your child should be in a special education setting, what to expect by age and stage, as well as the three steps with best and proven solutions (early intervention, rapid response, and new habits to help your child learn to boost their success in life).
I want you to know those signs because hands down, all studies show early intervention is essential. It’s also why I was so pleased that Barbara F. Melta, a parenting columnist of Boston.com Moms Child Caring Parenting News & Advice included the signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions in a recent web post: “Dubai Dad Worried About Autism.”
You can read Barbara’s complete post by clicking on the link above. She was answering a father’s question — “When should I worry about my son? How do I know if he has Autism?” It’s a question that many parents ask. I’ve included below her answer to a worried dad of a preschooler wondering if his son could be on the Autism spectrum disorder. (Thanks Barbara!) Now let’s get to the next crucial step: finding the cause of Autism.
Possible Signs of Autism
“Doesn’t fit in; displays eccentric behaviors, including compulsive rocking, arm jerking and repetitive movement; was late talking and has difficulty with speech; is preoccupied with internal monologue, focused on only one thing at a time and unwilling to be distracted or to engage with others; is socially inept; visibly stands out from the other kids; is excluded or ostracized because of major characteristics that are unlike other kids.”
Some of this does seem to apply to your son, and it’s true that, generally speaking, preschool teachers are trustworthy, reliable sources when it comes to identifying problems simply because they see enough children to have a good sense of what is and isn’t “typical” behavior.
Would I take their concerns seriously? Yes. Does that mean — even with your description — that your son is on the autistic spectrum? No. Should I seek professional help to be sure? Absolutely. And please note: the key here is not only to seek professional help but also to seek help from a professional who has experience and training in autism spectrum disorders.
I agree with Barbara. Seek help only from a professional who has experience and training in Autism.
Another great resource is Autism Parenting Magazine. They recently put together an updated post and guide on the Autism Support Group for Parents, Families & Children that is a worthy source. Check it out by clicking here..
Tips for Early Prevention
There is one thing that experts do agree on: early intervention does make a difference. If you suspect or know that your child lies somewhere on the autism spectrum, here are solutions to help you parent your child’s more “eccentric ways” and offer him the best chance for success in life.
- Accept your child’s difference. There’s no doubt about it: having a child who has extreme needs and is marginalized is one of the tougher parts of parenting. But in order for your child to come to terms with his differences, you must accept your child for who he is. He needs your unconditional love and support. After all, you can’t change your child’s condition and he will not “outgrow” this disorder. A key to how well your child will cope with the cards he is dealt is your acceptance.
- Anticipate problems. Identify your child’s quirks so you can find ways to prevent potential problems. For instance, if he has to have lunch at a certain time, feed him before he goes to the park. Talk to the parent about your fear of balloon’s popping before he goes to the party. If the smell of paste sends him into a tizzy fit, ask the teacher if he can use a glue stick before he does the project. Figure how long your child can handle a situation before her nuclear meltdown so you pick her up a half hour earlier and help her save face.
- Form a partnership with the school. Become allies with educators at your child’s school. Ask their perspective on how your child is handling the school scene. Talk to the teacher, school psychologist, principal or counselor and find out what kind of educational and psychological support can be offered. They may be able to supply additional resources, a club tailored to his interests, a place to go to when things get tough, names of students with similar interests your child might associate with. Take advantage of the resources that might serve your child better.
- Be your child’s advocate. Your kid’s quirkiness may get raised eyebrows and you probably will hear negative comments, so you may need to develop thicker skin. Have one great response ready to say when the moment arises: “Thank heavens he’s not like the rest of the world.” Or “We’re raising the next Mozart (Einstein, Robin Williams).” Utter it with a confidence and then walk on. Your role is to be your child’s best advocate and supporter.
- Empathize and show support. Some quirky kids are oblivious to their differences and other kids’ negative reactions. But if your child is aware of the stares or rejections, acknowledge that the difference will be tough and may continue to be so. “I know it’s really tough to be in a special class.” “You’re right, it’s hard to stop flapping your hands when you’re excited.” “I know they call you “retard.” They don’t realize how smart you are.” It may help to identify one empathic child in each social setting to look out for your child.
- Find supportive caregivers. Your child will need cheerleaders so connect with those who are directly responsible for your child’s care and education. Explain your child “quirkiness” so they know this is not intentional or attention-getting behavior. Let them know any special behavior strategies or needs your child has that will help him cope. Get to know the other parents, volunteer to help our in class, join the PTA, or become a scout leader. Anyway you can engage in the school and community can help your child make friends and fit in.
- Get the best treatment. Once you have evaluated your child, do your research and seek out the best treatment for your child based on his unique issues. A heads up: Professional advice varies greatly depending upon the person’s training. A pediatric neurologist’s opinion will differ from an occupational therapist or special education teacher which means you may end up receiving conflicting advice. Make sure to seek advice only from professionals who are knowledgeable and trained in ASD. Ask for recommendations from your school psychologist, counselor, teacher and doctor. Call the nearest medical center or child development center at a university or a thorough Web search. Beware: Dozens of treatments (many quite pricey) for ASD profess miraculous “cures.” Check the research behind any treatment before signing the dotted line. Contact the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or the American Psychological Association (APA) if you are in doubt.
Barbara F Meltz is a a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of “Put Yourself in Their Shoes; Understanding How Your Children See the World.” She won several awards for her weekly “Child Caring” column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.
All the best!