Back in the late 90s-early 2000s, when I was very young, my family took me to see a behavioral psychologist, as they wanted an explanation for some of my more peculiar tendencies. It ended up being a complete waste of time, as the doctor simply wrote me off as being “shy”, and that all I needed was to get out more, and “eventually it would fade away”. As a result of that blunder, I never received the proper aid that is now more readily available to children on the spectrum and their families. As I’ve grown, matured, and researched heavily into the topic, I’ve come to learn just how vital early detection really is. It can be the difference between a lifetime of success, or one of haphazard dependence.
As the years go by and our understanding of autism increases, so too does the ability for families to detect it in their children early on, and develop strategies to help prepare them for the real world. The numbers from several groups, including Autism Speaks, the Autism Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that as of 2015, 1 in every 68 people lie somewhere on the autism spectrum. According to the Autism Science Foundation, this number is changing constantly. Compared to the 1980s, where the rate was said to be 1 in 10000, or even as recently as the 90s, where it sat at around 1 in 2500, nowadays we have a much deeper understanding of what autism is, and the signs to look for in order to make the diagnosis.
To quote an article from parents.com, “There is one point upon which every autism advocate and expert agree: The earlier in life ASD can be identified and treated, the better.” So let’s say that you find a good doctor and get that all-important diagnosis. What now? Where do you go from here? Well, the truth is that it depends on where your child falls on the spectrum; i.e. the severity. In the case of high-functioning individuals, some of the most effective strategies are teaching them to make eye contact, play and relate with other kids, and giving them a bit more attention then you perhaps would otherwise, to let them know that they are loved. For those who fall lower on the spectrum, who may never even be able to speak, alternate methods of communication can be taught to give them the voice they deserve.
The most important question, then, is when is the right time to test your child for autism? For many years, the agreed upon earliest age was 3, but current American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines state that screening can (and should) begin at 18-24 months. Some, however, still hold onto the old number, as when you’re dealing with baby-toddler aged children, it can be difficult to ascertain what is typical and what is not. Regardless, one thing is clear: our ability to detect autism at an early age has never been better, and all families are highly encouraged to use the resources available to them. It could make all the difference in your child’s life.
Written by G. Sosso