By Donald Dailey
When he was fifteen months old, our little grandson, Sean, was a bright, happy, intelligent child whom most parents would characterize as “easy.” He ate all the special food which his health-conscious mother prepared, loved to be read to, and seemed to have a special love for words, often laughing at the verbal shenanigans of Dr. Suess. Yet when he was two, Sean was diagnosed with autism. Now that we know that autism is the nation’s fastest-growing developmental disorder, we realize that there were early signs that Sean was on the autism spectrum.
Autism affects one in every 110 children, and the rate is higher among boys. This year more children will be diagnosed with autism than with cancer, AIDS, and diabetes combined, according to the Autism Speaks organization, and everyone agrees that the earlier a child is diagnosed with this disorder, the better. Early intervention can have a big impact on the development of autistic children.
Although doctors earlier recommended a “wait and see” approach to autism, experts now say that parents should act early because waiting can lead to missed opportunities for helping these children. Dr. Rebecca Landa, head of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, says, “By identifying these early signs of autism and acting early, we are providing toddlers with tools and skills to increase social opportunities throughout their lifetime and positioning them to have the best possible outcomes.”
Researchers at Kennedy Krieger Institute have recently made major advances that now allow the signs of autism to be detected in children as young as age one. Parents should look for these early warning signs:
- Little or no attempt to attract attention. Infants and toddlers normally seek the attention of those around them-e.g., making silly facial expressions, moving their limbs and making babbling sounds in babies younger than 1, to talking and acting silly in children older than 12 months. Children who don’t try to attract the attention of others in these ways could be at risk.
- Poor eye contact. By the age of 2 months, infants can make direct eye contact with an adult. Read the rest of this entry »