April has been designated national Autism Awareness Month and provides a special opportunity for individuals across our country to educate and raise awareness in their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and local communities. There has been a dramatic worldwide increase in reported cases of autism over the past decade. The prevalence rates in the US have risen steadily, from one in 150, to one in 110, and then to one in every 88 children based on 2008 data. According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 U.S. children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) now has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a 30% increase from two years ago.
Research indicates that the outcomes for children with ASD can be significantly improved by early identification and intensive intervention. It is critically important to identify those children who are at-risk in order to reduce the time between symptom appearance and formal diagnosis and treatment. An important goal of Autism Awareness is to alert new parents and others of the early behavioral signs of autism. The signs and symptoms typically appear during the first three years of life and relate to language, social behavior, and behaviors concerning objects and routines. ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. Unfortunately, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with an ASD might not get the help they need. The red flags or key warning signs of autism include:
- Does not smile by the age of six months
- Does not respond to his name
- Does not cry
- Does not babble or use gestures by 12 months
- Does not point to objects by 12 months
- Does not use words by 16 months
- Does not use two-word phrases by 24 months
- Does not point at objects to show interest
- Avoids eye contact and want to be alone
- Prefers not to be held or cuddled
- Regresses after mastering skills/loses previously mastered skills
All children should be screened specifically for ASD during regular well-child doctor visits at 18 months and 24 months. A standardized screening tool should also be administered at any point when concerns about ASD are raised by a parent or teacher or as a result of school observations or questions about developmentally appropriate social, communicative, play behaviors, or where there is a family history of autism or related disabilities. Because ASD continue to grow at such a dramatic rate, it is an issue that deserves our attention not only in April, but throughout the year!
The following resources provide important information about early identification and intervention.
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, CCBT, NCSP is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. He is also editor of a new Volume in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools.
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