For one, autism is considered a spectrum disorder. Meaning, no one person diagnosed with autism will present the same way. Children’s symptoms range from very mild to very severe. In addition, we don’t really know what causes autism. We do know that there is a strong genetic component and that there are likely multiple environmental factors that also play a role.
So, while there are still a multitude of questions that swirl around autism, what we do know is this: early detection and intervention is key.
In my effort to shed some light on autism, I will share with you some facts about Autism and “red flags” to be aware of and look out for should you be concerned about your child’s development.
- 1 in 110 children are affected by autism and the numbers are growing
- 1 in 70 boys will be affected. Boys are 4 times more likely than girls to have autism
- There is no simple, easy “test” for autism; nor is there a cure.
- Autism is considered a developmental disability that can range in severity. Therefore, it is considered a spectrum disorder.
- Autistic children have difficulties in communication, social interactions, and typically display repetitive patterns of behavior.
- Children with autism are often overwhelmed by their environment.
- No two children with autism will look, sound, or present the same way.
- Although there is a strong genetic component, the exact cause of autism remains unknown. Environmental factors and possible triggers are suspected in vulnerable children.
- Early diagnosis and intervention is key to helping children with autism navigate their world and improve their long term quality of life.
Red Flags to be aware of:
If your 18 month old displays any of these red flags, have him assessed and screened for autism.
- Does not respond to his name
- Is slow to develop language skills. For example, no words by 16 months old.
- Does not point or wave bye-bye
- Has language regression. For instance, he used to babble or say a few words, but now does not.
- Throws intense or violent tantrums
- Seems to tune people out.
- Does not reciprocate smiles or show interest in others.
- Has poor eye contact
- Talk to your doctor sooner if you suspect your infant or toddler is not meeting his developmental milestones.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all children be screened for autism at 18 months old. This is in addition to routine developmental check ups at each well child visit.
Most of all, listen to your gut and follow your instincts. If you feel something is just “not right” with your child, talk to your pediatrician. You are certainly the expert when it comes to your own child and you will be his best advocate.
I’d like to end this post with words from the moms on the front line. They say it and know it best. I asked three moms of children on the autistic spectrum to share what they want others to know about autism and their children. Here is what they said:
“I think the biggest thing is patience and understanding. For us we would appreciate prayers not stares. It is difficult to communicate with everyone who we come in contact with that our son isn’t acting like a 2 year old throwing a tantrum on purpose. He doesn’t know how to communicate his feelings properly. I would just like people to know that kids with autism can’t help it and that they and their parents want to be treated with respect and dignity just like everyone else does.”
—Melanie (Mom to an adorable 5 year old boy with autism. She also happens to be my son’s amazing kindergarten teacher.)
“Compassion and understanding. I would love parents to know they shouldn’t judge a mom when her kid is having a meltdown at the grocery store. The child may not be an ill-behaved spoiled brat who isn’t getting his way. He may actually be a child with autism who cannot handle the florescent lights in the store or the sounds of the floor-cleaning machine. So instead of passing judgment on the mom, they should either ignore the meltdown or check in with the mom to see if she needs help of any kind. That form of compassion is greatly appreciated!”
—Cheryl (Mom to a beautiful and quirky 7 year old girl with Asperger’s and author of the blog, Little Bit Quirky)
“Autism makes it very difficult to cope with daily life. People with autism are not being loud or covering their ears or running through a room because they cannot behave or need better parenting. They are trying to manage in a world that is overwhelming for them and are doing the best they can to navigate through society each and every day.”
—Jessica (Mom to a beautiful and courageous teenager with autism. She is also author of the blog, Four Plus an Angel. Read her daughter’s words here, in this poignant interview between mom and daughter.)
These moms are truly amazing and more than anything, this month is about educating others about autism and the children affected by it. I hope these moms, dads, and parents everywhere continue to share their stories and shed light on what it’s like to live with autism. As you can see from their words above, what they truly crave is compassion, understanding, and support.
Share your story too. What would you like others to know about autism?