Losing language or social skills at any age
More common in boys than girls, autism is a disorder that can affect the way a child behaves, thinks, communicates and interacts with others. Some kids have only mild symptoms, whereas others’ symptoms are more severe.
Although it may seem like more kids are getting autism today, it’s unclear whether the increased numbers mean that the disorder is actually on the rise. Why? For one, a broader definition of autism can be applied to more children who show varying degrees of symptoms.
Plus, health professionals are becoming increasingly aware of the condition, which has led to more and better diagnoses.
Though there is no cure for autism, getting help early on is crucial to helping kids cope with the condition, learn and communicate.
All of the media attention about autism has made parents more informed and more worried – sometimes unnecessarily.
Although it’s important to be aware of possible warning signs, it’s also wise to keep things in perspective — there’s a wide range of "normal," and all children develop at different rates.
Of course, although some signs or slight delays may not end up being an indication of a bigger problem, if you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, talk to your doctor for information, advice and possibly reassurance - the earlier, the better.
Don’t feel like you have to "wait and see" about any of your concerns. You’re the best judge of your child’s well-being - so, if you feel like something really isn’t right, don’t hesitate to request a referral to a specialist for a more detailed evaluation.
"Once autism is suspected, there are some ‘gold standard’ assessment tools that evaluate specifically for diagnosis of autism," says Robin Gabriels, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at The Children’s Hospital and co-editor of two books on autism.
Those tests include the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADR-R).
"Once there is a concern, the family should see a specialist for a comprehensive evaluation," Dr. Gabriels said.
The Children’s Hospital is one of a select group of clinical programs in the Autism Treatment Network, a nationwide association dedicated to improving medical care for children and adolescents with autism.
Their membership in the network means families have expanded access to a multi-disciplinary team of physicians and clinicians – all with significant experience with autism spectrum disorders.
The Children’s Hospital provides outpatient evaluations for autism, as well as intensive treatment for autistic children and adolescents in crisis through our Neuropsychiatric Special Care Program.
Regardless of when a child is diagnosed with autism, it is never too late to start intervention, Dr. Gabriels says.
"Children with autism, like all children, are unique with individual likes, dislikes, temperaments and strengths," she says.
"Understanding the individual first and then applying behavioral teaching strategies and visual cues to help them understand expectations and communicate their needs holds the greatest promise for their future success."
The Psychosocial Research Center at The Children’s Hospital is currently recruiting children to participate in clinical research on autism.
All participants will be seen by specialized physicians who will aid in the evaluation of their condition.
A complete evaluation will be done at the beginning and end of the study with weekly or biweekly monitoring by a psychiatrist throughout.
All study-related assessments and medication are provided at no cost.
If your child is 6 to 17 years old, has a diagnosis of autism, and is experiencing serious behavioral problems, specifically irritability, agitation, self-injurious behavior, and crying, you may qualify for the autism study. For more information, call (720) 777-4162.
If your child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, contact your local autism society to identify resources in your area for specialty therapists, respite care and family support.