Learn the signs of autism, act early

by Capt. Veronica Bailey McMorris
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Army public health nurse

Over the past 20 years, researchers, scientists and medical providers have worked tirelessly to understand the multiple symptoms and difficulties parents are faced with when trying to understand their child’s behavior that can be difficult, confusing, conflicting, odd and unexplained.

Autism is thought to be the result of many different underlying physical and genetic factors. There are also many theories which support and deny that autism is caused by environmental exposures and vaccinations, among other things. All this continues to add to the confusion and frustration of parents who are trying to understand the complexities of their child’s situation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines autism as an individual group of disorders known as the Autism Spectrum Disorders. ASDs are developmental disabilities that affect social interaction and communication.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is complex and often difficult for families and professionals alike to understand. Parents and caregivers who have autistic children may experience many challenges.

Children with autism learn at a different developmental rate than most children. Multiple educational approaches can significantly improve the quality of life for the child and family.

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability. The cost of care for a child diagnosed with ASD can be astronomical, but the cost can be reduced through early diagnosis and intervention.

In response to the needs of families coping with ASD, the Combating Autism Act of 2006 authorized nearly $1 billion in expenditures to combat the Autism Spectrum Disorders of Autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and PDD-NOS through screening, education, early intervention, prompt referrals for treatment and services, and research.

Autism does not discriminate; it affects children of all races, ethnic backgrounds and economic status. Taking the time to learn the early signs of autism can benefit a child.

It is imperative that parents learn the initial behaviors of ASD and act immediately to get their child evaluated.

Parents should be aware of the following warning signs:

» At 12 months of age, the child does not babble, coo or gesture (i.e. point, wave and grasp)
» At 18 months of age, the child does not look at the primary care giver or point when the child wants to show you something; the child does not look when the primary care giver points to something or does not use imagination in pretend play.

If the child does not show these normal behaviors, then the child may be at risk for autism. If a child lacks these minor but normal behavioral communication skills, alert your primary care provider immediately.
There are several resources available in the Kaiserslautern community. For help in evaluating a child for autism, contact the local Autism Support Group at 480-5100/5900 and the Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator at 493-4094/493-4091.

More information is also available online at www.autism-society.org and www.cdc.gov/genomics/resources/diseases/autism.htm.