Author: John Harrington, CHKD's General Academic Pediatrics
Approximately 1 in 110 children ages 3 to 10 years are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Those numbers, along with increased media attention, have many parents of young children alarmed.
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder with symptoms that usually appear during the first three years of life. Autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, with approximately four times as many boys affected.
These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors such as rocking and hand flapping.
There is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed guidelines to help identify signs of autism in children before 24 months of age. In the past, diagnosis of autism was often not made until late preschool-age or later.
Before the age of 24 months, all children should routinely be screened for autism and other developmental delays at well-child check-ups using a standardized screening instrument such as the modified checklist for autism in toddlers.
If the results of the screening are abnormal, the child should be referred for further evaluation by a specialist in child development. Specialized behavioral therapy and educational programs are used to teach communication and social skills.
Individualized treatment planning is important, as children with autism vary greatly in their behavioral needs. Intensive behavior therapy during early childhood and home-based approaches that involve parents appear to produce the best long-term outcomes for patients with autism spectrum disorders.
Medication can be helpful in treating some behaviors that often co-occur with autism, such as aggression and compulsive behaviors.
Source: Tidewater Parent Magazine