Although autism prevalence has risen to one in 59 children in the United States, many parents are still unaware of what signs of autism may actually look like in a child. Or, if developmental delay is recognized, it's unclear what the next steps for autism evaluation should be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends having your child screened for developmental delay as a regular procedure at your nine, 18, and 24 month check-ups. However, a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics claims that only 37% of children received a developmental surveillance from their healthcare professional in the past year. Even less, only 30% were reported to have received a developmental screening by a parent.
To ensure our children are getting the best tools they need to grow up, it's important we bridge the gap of understanding autism in our developing children. For example, did you know your doctor can make a reliable autism diagnosis by the time a child is two years old, although the average age of diagnosis isn't until four? Or that autism prevalence is about four times more common in boys than girls? That equates to about 1 in 37 boys with autism in our country.
Now that I've thrown a ton of scary facts at you, you may be thinking "is my child autistic? Do I need to get an autism screening test ASAP?" or are frantically Googling milestones your child may or may not have reached by now. So before I lose you in the scary abyss of WebMD, let me clarify some of the steps you could take.
Sometimes people with ASD have trouble with social, emotional and communication skills. Meaning they avoid eye contact, or don't like being hugged or have a harder time expressing their needs and feelings. People with autism may also rely on repetition and dislike changing their daily activities. Some signs listed on CDC include:
These are just some typical signs of ASD. And if your child displays one, it doesn't mean they have autism. However, it does mean you should bring it up at your next check up with a pediatrician and have your child regularly screened. Even if you don't recognize any of these signs in your child, it's best to have a healthcare professional routinely check for developmental delay, regardless.
Your pediatrician will have regular screening techniques in place and know what to look for. During a visit, your doctor may ask you some questions or talk and play with your child to see how they learn, speak, behave and move. If they recognize any signs of delay or if your child is at higher risk due to preterm birth, low birth weight, or having a sibling with ASD, your doctor may complete a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.
A comprehensive evaluation may include looking at the child's behavior and development and interviewing you. It will probably also include a hearing and vision screening, and potentially could involve other tests related to genes and neurology.
For a confident diagnosis, your doctor could refer you to a developmental specialist, including a developmental pediatrician, child neurologist, or child psychologist. They're just doctors who specialize in recognizing things in your child's brain or nerves and can really hone in on a diagnosis, should they believe there's developmental delay.
If your doctor believes your child is developing typically, stay in the know! Be aware of what milestones they should be hitting as they grow and make sure you still have those regular check-ups for the first few years of life.
If your doctor believes your child could have autism, there are plenty of helpful resources to take you through the next steps. Autism Speaks' 100 Day Kit is a great place to start.
Overall, it's important we arm ourselves with knowledge of autism screening to ensure that our children are getting the best tools they need to grow up. The earlier a diagnosis, the more successful intervention can be on a young child, and ultimately change the trajectory of their life.