For the parents of a child with autism, a few moments of eye contact, tolerance to a new fabric, or an utterance of speech can bring extraordinary joy. These can be significant milestones for the 1 in 68 children in the United States with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) — milestones that the Autism Society has been working hard to increase through research, support, and therapy recourses since it declared April as National Autism Awareness Month, in 1970. Autism is the most rapidly growing developmental disorder in the country, and it impairs non-verbal and verbal communication, impacts social interaction, and causes rigid and repetitive behavior.
This month, South County Physical Therapy, Inc. (SCPT) provides an overview of early-warning signs for parents and resources for families with a newly diagnosed loved one. People with this neurodevelopmental disorder have unique gifts. Many of those living with ASD are independent and logical thinkers, have incredibly high skill-sets in certain areas (sometimes with encyclopedic knowledge on topics of personal interest), and display above average intelligence. Many of these skills go hand-in-hand with challenges, which can be diminished with support, early detection, and therapy.
Autism Speaks, an organization committed to advocating for and supporting those on the spectrum, have provided “red flags” that may indicate if a child is at risk for ASD.
- Six Months of Age: Absence of big smiles or warm, happy expressions;
- Nine Months of Age: Absence of smiles, back-and-forth sharing of sounds, and limited facial expressions;
- 12 Months of Age: Absence of interactive gestures like pointing, reaching, showing, or waving;
- 16 Months of Age: Absence of words;
- 24 Months of Age: Absence of meaningful, two-word phrases; and
- Any Age: Loss of social skills, babbling, or speech.
Autism Speaks also provides a helpful checklist to assist in determining if a healthcare professional should evaluate your child. It can be both overwhelming and frightening to learn your child might have a developmental disability, but seeking services as early as possible can ease stress and improve your child’s long-term quality of life.
Should your child receive a diagnosis, there is hope with intervention. Early Intervention (EI) is a developmental service available to children with identified disabilities or whose development is delayed or at risk. Children who qualify for this program can receive in-home therapy from an approved provider until the child’s third birthday. Family members, hospitals, and physicians can submit an EI referral, and there are no out-of-pocket costs charged to families whose children receive Early Intervention services. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides additional resources to guide you through this process.
Though behavioral signs of ASD might be prevalent, most specialists won’t diagnosis the disorder until 18 months. If your child does receive a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, there are numerous resources available to families as they begin this journey. Speech, behavioral, sensory, and physical therapy services might benefit your child, based on their specific needs.
SCPT hopes that the links below can help your family make important connections.
Local Early Intervention Providers:
Resources and Guides: