Sunday, April 17, 2011

What every parent needs to know about Autism Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 4 part series spotlighting National Autism Awareness Month

Autism is one of the five Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which is in a group of Disorders that are referred to as Disorders Usually Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, and Adolescence listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (DSM-IV).  Autism is normally diagnosed in childhood, and early detection and intervention are an important key to a favorable prognosis.

If you have met one child with Autism, you have met one child with Autism.

Autism can appear very different in each child. In spite of the stereotypical portrayal of individuals with Autism in the popular media (Rain Man), each person is just that, a person.  In working with children and adults with Autism and other Intellectual and Developmental Disorders, I have learned the importance of what is called "person-first" language.  For example, saying "that autistic girl", one would say "my neighbor Sally likes to watch movies, and she has Autism".  In this way, a diagnosis of Autism, or anything else (i.e. Schizophrenia, Depression) does not define the person.  After all, you would not say "My Republican neighbor" or "My black haired neighbor" because these are simply characteristics of those people and do not define their identity. 

Some common issues that are present in most individuals with Autism are difficulties with communication, social skills, and restricted interests and repetitive patterns of behavior. The Autism Speaks website features a Video Glossary that is designed to provide professionals and families with video representations of children of varying ages, both typically developing and with Autism. This Glossary helps depict early red flags and diagnostic features of Autism. The Glossary can be found at the following link:

Co-Occurring Disorders

Estimates are that up to 75% of those with Autism also have Intellectual Disabilities. In addition to Intellectual Disabilities, those with Autism are often faced with co-occurring depression, OCD, anxiety and trauma. These are often untreated and can contribute to difficulties in social and work settings. Individuals with Autism and other disabilities are also at great risk for abuse and neglect.

Treatment and intevention: initial issues
It is important that treatment have the following characteristics:

1) Treatment needs to begin early.  As soon as you believe your child may have delays in any area, see a pediatrician or developmental psychologist immediately. The sooner intervention can begin, the better;
2) Treatment needs to be a team approach. Family, teachers, psychologists, and other professionals (occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, etc), need to be involved in developing a strong and comprehensive plan to address each area of need, and to build upon your child's strengths and talents;
3) Parents should educate themselves about advocacy, and how you can obtain all services and support that your child needs;
4)  In home support, as well as support in school, should take a comprehensive approach that provides consistency and develops skills.

Part 3 of this series will focus on transitional issues into adulthood, and will outline concerns specific to individuals with Autism in adulthood throughout the lifespan. Part 4 will be a special guest blog by a parent of a young man with Autism.

If you have a child that you suspect has Autism, do not wait to get help. Early intervention is a key. 



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