Prevalence of Autism in the United States
If you are the parent of a child, it is likely that Autism is not a new word to you. Autism has been on the rise in recent years and continues to impact more and more children each year. According to a report by Autism Speaks, 1 in 54 kids will be diagnosed with Autism this year! That is up from one in every 88 kids being diagnosed just five years ago- which means there has been an increase of 61% over the last five years alone (National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities).
One reason for this increase could be due to changes in how Autism is now defined, but there are a variety of factors that have contributed to it’s rising numbers (National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities). For example, studies show diagnosing kids later may contribute to the increasing rates (American Association On Intellectual and Developmental Disability) as well as increased awareness about symptoms which might make diagnosis easier than before.
The Diagnostic Manual used by mental health professionals today defines Autism as a developmental disorder that impacts the brain and results in social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Many children diagnosed with Autism are also diagnosed with related disorders such as intellectual disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder) OCD).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, Autism impacts more boys than girls. In fact, one out of 42 boys will be diagnosed with Autism compared to just one out every 189 girls! This may be because autism often displays different symptoms based on gender and diagnostic tools are designed to recognize the Autistic traits displayed more commonly by boys than girls. It could also be due to greater awareness among parents about detecting these issues early.
Early Signs of Autism
Parents should be aware of the early signs of Autism so they can get their children diagnosed and receive the appropriate resources to teach them. The CDC reports that early intervention yields better results for Autistic kids, so it’s important to catch Autism as soon as possible if you suspect your child may be showing any symptoms of autism spectrum disorder!
Some of the early signs of Autism include:
- A lack of eye contact or looking at people’s faces.
- Not responding when spoken to.
- Repetitive behaviors such as flapping hands, spinning around in circles, or rocking back and forth.
- Having a hard time making friends with children their own age.
- Difficulty understanding what other people are thinking about them or saying to them (this can make it difficult for someone on the Autism spectrum to have successful conversations).
- Stimming: this is when an individual engages in repetitive body movements that often include hand tapping, pacing, rocking side to side while standing up from sitting down repeatedly or rubbing fingers together rapidly. These stimming habits don’t usually cause any harm but they do help regulate speech patterns or emotional responses like anxiety.
If you are unsure whether or not your child is displaying signs of Autism, a good resource to do a self evaluation is a free screening tool called “ModifiedAutism Checklist for Young Children (M-CHAT)” which can help parents determine whether their child may have autism based on behavioral symptoms. The CHAT assessment was designed by doctors specializing in pediatric neurology, child psychiatry and developmental psychology to assist parents in knowing when it is appropriate to seek out an evaluation for Autism. While it is not sufficient to determine a diagnosis, it can inform a parent whether or not your child is at risk for receiving an Autism diagnosis and whether or not more testing is appropriate.
If your child does not show sufficient signs to warrant a diagnosis of Autism at three months, but you are still concerned about their development and behavior, it is important to continue monitoring them as they grow. If a child is under the age of three and they are experiencing any developmental delays, even if they do not meet the criteria for Autism, they may still qualify for early intervention which will be discussed in more detail later in this article.
If you think your child might have autism, take these steps to find out.
If you suspect your child might have autism, it is important that they receive a diagnosis. You can take these steps to help them get the attention and care they need:
The first thing you should do if you think your child may be autistic is speak with their pediatrician for advice on how or where to go from here. They are likely to recommend your child is evaluated by a developmental pediatrician.
A developmental pediatrician is a pediatrician with specialized training in Autism. A developmental pediatrician will want to do a thorough assessment of the child’s development and behavior, which may involve:
- Observing your child playing for at least two hours (one session)
- Talking to you about how they behave socially and play; gathering information from friends or family members who know them well; talking to teachers or other caregivers involved in their life.
- Interviewing your child one-on-one using activities specific to determining what type of Autism spectrum disorder diagnosis is most likely. These can include tasks as simple as drawing circles around pictures that are alike, rating favorite toys on different scales, looking at books together while pointing out items that have been talked about before.
- They will ask you questions about your child’s development and then do a neurological exam to see if there are any structural abnormalities in the brain.
- Most developmental pediatricians will also recommend genetic testing to rule out other possible diagnoses that may be causing symptoms similar to Autism, such as Fragile X syndrome.
Once a child is diagnosed with Autism there are many different treatment options available. Some treatments offer medical interventions while other therapies involve life skills training and behavior therapy that can help an individual learn to manage their symptoms and live a more independent, productive lifestyle.
ABA: this is the most common type of therapy used for Autism which teaches children how to improve communication, self-care habits as well as socializing with others in a meaningful way by using teaching techniques such as modeling and reinforcement systems (this is also known as Applied Behavior Analysis).
Other important therapies for children with Autism include: sensory integration therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
Sensory Integration Therapy: typically done through play activities where kids on the Autism spectrum can be given opportunities to explore one sense at time without being overwhelmed or overloaded with information from multiple senses simultaneously. This helps these individuals better handle higher levels.
Speech therapists can help a child with Autism to improve their speech and language skills.
Occupational therapists can teach the child how to be more aware of their physical surroundings, which will help them become less disruptive in class or at home. Some occupational therapists may even specialize exclusively in Autism therapies for children by providing one-on-one instruction that is tailored to the specific needs of each student as well as strengthening social skills such as playing pretend games together.
Physical therapists work with a child to improve strength, coordination, muscle tone and balance while also helping the individual gain an awareness on how they use space around themselves.
It is important to start services as soon as possible. While there is no magic window that a child must start receiving services by, and there is no time too late to start, the sooner the better. If you are waiting to see a developmental pediatrician and get a diagnosis, you are living in the United States and your child is not yet three years old, you may be eligible for early intervention.
Early intervention is a federally funded program that can provide your child with services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy. Early Intervention provides children from birth through age three access to comprehensive support in order to develop their cognitive skills including language development; social relationships.
There are many benefits to early intervention. One of the most important is that it can help a child’s brain develop and form new pathways. It also helps parents, caregivers, therapists and teachers who are working with young children to understand where they need more support in their development.
Another benefit of early intervention is that it can help a child develop skills that will last them for their entire life, such as being able to communicate verbally with others or taking care of themselves.
Most importantly, many times with early intervention, children who are delayed will catch up with their peers by the time they start school.
To conclude, more individuals are being diagnosed with Autism each year and early intervention is one of the most important parts to a child’s development. It is critical as a parent to be aware of the early signs of Autism so that if a child has Autism or any other delay, you can start the early intervention process as soon as possible.