Autism: Early Intervention Can Help
For children, the word "growth" is usually associated with positive moments. Growth is synonymous with a baby's first tooth, first word and first step.
But the word "growth" can have negative connotations, as well. Autism, for example, is the fastest growing developmental disability: with a 1,148 percent growth rate.
Autism is a developmental disability that occurs when the brain has trouble functioning properly. It affects a child's ability to speak, learn, and communicate with others. One in every 68 children in the U.S. has autism.
Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening all toddlers for autism at ages 18 and 24 months. Still, a growing number of researchers believe that screening can and should start even earlier for infants known to be at high risk for autism. These high risk infants include the younger siblings of children already diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is a complex developmental disorder that affects how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates, and learns.
There is no cure for autism, but early intervention can help. Children who are diagnosed at a young age and visit a doctor regularly for treatment show improvements in learning and communication skills. While some parents may be concerned about the safety of vaccines and whether there is a link to autism, the American Association of Pediatrics continues to recommend that children receive their immunizations to protect them against childhood diseases.
In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, First 5 LA offers the following information to help parents understand autism and connect them to the resources they need.
Early Warning Signs
Autism is complex and can be difficult to diagnose because it affects each child differently, but there are signs parents should look out for - like the ones below. As soon as you notice symptoms, you should take your child to a doctor or health care provider.
- Eye Contact. Autistic children make little or no eye contact.
- Speech. Look for late speaking or no speaking at all. Some autistic children have trouble expressing needs or do not respond to verbal communication.
- Relationships. Sometimes autistic children have difficulty relating to other people, prefer to be alone, or don't like to cuddle.
- Play. Children are naturally active and creative, so take note if your child doesn't play. Also keep in mind that autistic behavior sometimes includes unusual play patterns like spinning objects over and over again.
- Extreme Behaviors. Watch for extreme behavior like too much laughing or crying for no reason, tantrums, and sensitivity to pain (or lack of it). Sometimes autistic kids don't have a natural fear of danger, and are fixated on certain objects for a long time. Repetitive movements like hand-flapping also can be an early sign of autism.
The Sooner, The Better
Since there are no specific medical tests for autism, it's important that parents, caretakers, teachers, and health care providers pay close attention to a child's communication, behavior, and development. Screenings for autism can take time, so it's a good idea to get started as soon as symptoms are noticed.
- Early Intervention. Research shows that early intervention reduces the effects of autism. By starting treatment at an early age (0 to 3) when the brain is developing, children can make great progress by the time they start kindergarten.
- Treatment. Autistic children benefit from programs that help develop their communication, social and mental skills. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, some of the most common treatment options include speech therapy, diet, and treatments that focus on improving relationships.
Resources Available to Help
If you have concerns about your child's development, don't wait - talk to your doctor or health care provider about getting an autism screening. The following services can also help:
- California Department of Developmental Services. For children under age 3, call 1-800-515-BABY (2229) and select the "Early Start" extension number. For children between ages 3 and 5, call First 5 California at 1-800-KIDS-025 for screening services and information on whether your child can receive free special needs assessments.
- The Autism Society of America (ASA). The ASA has chapters throughout California and provides information on symptoms and treatments. For more information, visit www.autism-society.org.
How First 5 LA Is Helping
In September 2011, First 5 LA approved a $900,000 allocation to focus on the early identification of Autism and Other Developmental Delays to increase the number of children that are screened, receive referrals to early intervention services, and are integrated into Los Angeles County's various systems of care. In May 2013, First 5 LA approved an additional $1.6 million, bringing the total allocation to $2.5 million.
With the overall goal of improving developmental screening and referral to services for children in underserved communities, First 5 LA's Early Identification of and Referrals to Early Intervention Services for Autism and Other Developmental Delays investment will aim to: 1) raise the competencies of local community-based providers' capacities to conduct developmental screenings, identify developmental delay(s), and refer identified children and families to culturally and linguistically appropriate early intervention services and support as early as possible; 2) improve young children and families' access to developmental screenings and early intervention services; 3) increase parents' knowledge about healthy development and developmental delays to ensure young children are screened for meeting critical developmental milestones; and 4) strengthen support for parents with special needs children.
Most recently, the following six community-based organizations have been selected by First 5 LA to implement developmental screenings and referrals for intervention services for infants and toddlers: AltaMed Health Services Corporation, Eisner Pediatric and Family Medical Center, Foothill Family Service, Northeast Valley Health Corporation, South Central Los Angeles Regional Center, and Westside Children's Center.
The Training and Technical Assistance provider, Children's Hospital, will raise the competencies of the six community-based organizations' capacities to conduct developmental screenings, identify developmental delays, and refer identified children and families to appropriate early intervention services.
Related Topics: Disabilities
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