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Identifying Autism Early

Dear Debi,
I've been hearing a lot about autism lately. What are some of the signs that may indicate a child is autistic? How early can autism be detected?
Juvwana Wilson
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Loss of language
  • Consistent arm flapping
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Isolation
  • Lack of emotional connection
  • Seek immediate help if concerned
  • Early diagnosis & treatment give kids a chance at better lives
Expert Advice
Jennifer Symon, Ph.D.
Jennifer Symon, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor, California. State University
Autism is actually called Autism Spectrum Disorder and it's a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain.

The severity of the condition differs from child to child. Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning that the ways it affects children varies in many ways. Therefore, children with the diagnosis of autism may be very different from each other, have different skills, and have different needs. Just like all children, each child with autism is unique.

The cause of autism is still a mystery. Researchers still don't know what causes it, nor have they found a cure. Yet different types of therapies have been developed that have been shown to help. Treatment and education approaches may reduce some of the challenges associated with the disability. Intervention has been shown to lessen disruptive behaviors, and education can teach self-help skills that allow a child greater independence. Research is showing that early intervention can make a world of difference in a child's future development.

Autism impacts development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and repetitive or restrictive interest.

Experts now believe the disorder can be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months and children as young as 6 months can be identified as high-risk for the disorder. Autistic children may stare obsessively at a single object and refuse to look elsewhere. They may also avoid eye contact with their parents at a time when most babies are focusing intently on faces.

The prognosis for each child with autism will, of course, vary. However, one thing that all of the experts agree on is that these children need early intervention. By starting at a young age, we are able to teach the children ways to get their needs met whether it be through talking and gesturing or through a non-verbal system. Teaching the children at a young age gets them over the frustration and does not allow them many opportunities to develop inappropriate behaviors.
Child Care Provider Comments
Kaileh Pistol
Kaileh Pistol
Mother of child with autism
The first time that I was told Buck might have autism was by a man that I thought was incompetent. The second time I was told was by a wonderful woman. The first time I knew it was true - but I knew that I needed to get a second opinion. My first reaction was that I was upset, because I was afraid that I wasn't going to be a good mother for him. I wasn't afraid that he had autism; I was afraid that I wouldn't know what to do.
Dave Boesch
Dave Boesch
Father of child with autism
I like the inclusion program Buck is enrolled in because as a parent with a special needs child, I worry about down the line, in elementary school and middle school, how other kids will interact with him. I like the program because it's teaching typical kids to be able to interact with children with special needs. I think the modeling of typical children is important for his social interactions. I don't think that you can get that with being with therapists constantly. Therapists have a huge, important role in autism. This lets him develop his personality with other children. It lets him be with children who are used to special needs children; they are used to helping them
Denise Boesch
Denise Boesch
Aunt of child with autism
It took me quite a few months before I actually mentioned autism to my brother and sister-in-law. You kind of mull over it on how is the best way to bring up the topic. You bring up little hints and work around it. I saw an article in the newspaper, in the health section about early intervention with autistic kids. It was about a doctor who was really pushing early intervention. I showed the article to my brother. Eventually, they realized that maybe they should have my nephew evaluated. That process probably took 9 months. I wanted them to do it as young as possible, because I thought you could get better results the earlier you get them into therapy.

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Identifying Autism
Topic: Special Needs
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