Earlier this year, the CDC released a report indicating that one in every 59 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A doctor explains the early signs of ASD and gives advice for parents on what steps to take if they notice these signs in their child.
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According to Veena Ahuja, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, many parents are surprised to learn that the signs and symptoms of autism often begin to surface before a child’s second birthday.
“For some kids we see symptoms in infancy, even before they’re a year old,” she said. “For most kids, somewhere between 12-24 months is where we really start to see symptoms, because they’re not engaging in talking and imitating adults like other kids are.”
Dr. Ahuja said there are behaviors linked to autism that parents of very young children should be aware of.
No social smile, having difficulty making eye contact, not babbling in infancy or talking clearly by age one are causes for concern.
Other behaviors may include compulsive lining up of objects, hand-flapping, twirling, pacing or sensory issues with foods and textures.
Dr. Ahuja said autism can run in families, so these behaviors can be hard to pinpoint at first, if such behaviors seem typical to that family. Sometimes the symptoms don’t become noticeable to families until a child enters pre-school or school.
When it comes to understanding autism, Dr. Ahuja the most important thing to know is that there is a wide spectrum of symptoms. She said people often think that autism only refers to children who are non-verbal and struggle with basic functions, but a child can have a very high IQ and still have autism.
Dr. Ahuja encourages families who notice their child displaying some or more of the symptoms of autism to talk to their pediatrician.
Research has shown that the earlier a child with autism receives treatment, the better their outcomes will be later in life.
And while an autism diagnosis may have seemed devastating decades ago, Dr. Ahuja said children with autism today have more treatments and resources available to help them than ever before.
“When a family receives a diagnosis today, now they are saying, ‘we’re getting the diagnosis and we’re also getting a list of resources, we’re getting sent out into the community, to the right providers and we’re getting early intervention’ she said. “People also know more about autism because it’s in the media, so that’s a huge change as well.”