Inclusion Across the Spectrum: Signs, Treatment and Support for Autism

One in 54 youth in the United States under the age of 21 have been diagnosed with autism. This statistic may be surprising to some. However, just a year ago, the statistic was one in 44, the numbers of children who fall on the autism spectrum continue to rise. In light of the growing prevalence of autism, we feel it is important for parents to understand what autism is and the signs to look for. Further, it is of great importance to share this information with our friends and neighbors so we can help do our part to help create a “kinder, more inclusive world,” for those with neurodiversity.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects brain development, brain function and oftentimes behavior and social communication. There are many variations of autism, which is why it is described as a spectrum. Autism affects people in many different ways.

Early Signs of Autism

Autism doesn’t discriminate. It occurs in all racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups. However, it is four times more common in boys than girls. Most children are diagnosed by the age of eight years old, therefore, it’s important to notice some early signs of autism so you can discuss any questions or concerns with your child’s primary care provider as they grow and develop. The three key indicators to recognize are social, communication and behavioral differences.

Social Differences:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Unresponsive to parent’s facial expressions
  • May not look at objects when a parent points to them, or may not point to objects to get their parents to look at them
  • Many children don’t share facial expressions
  • May have difficulty interpreting the facial expressions of others

Communication Differences:

  • Does not say single words by 15 months or 2-word phrases by 24 months
  • Repeats exactly what others say without understanding the meaning (often called parroting or echoing)
  • May not respond to their name being called but responds to other sounds (like a car horn or a cat’s meow)
  • May refer to themself as “you” and others as “I”
  • May show no or less interest in communicating
  • Less likely to use toys or other objects to represent people or real life in pretend play
  • May lose language or other social milestones, usually between the ages of 15 and 24 months (often called regression)

Behavioral Differences (Repetitive or Obsessive in Nature)

  • Rocks, spins, sways, twirls fingers, walks on toes for a long time, or flaps hands (called “stereotypic behavior” or stereotypies)
  • Likes routines, order, and rituals; has difficulty with change or transition from one activity to another
  • May be obsessed with a few or unusual activities, doing them repeatedly during the day
  • Plays with parts of toys instead of the whole toy (e.g., spinning the wheels of a toy truck)
  • May not cry if in pain or seem to have any fear
  • May be very sensitive or not sensitive at all to smells, sounds, lights, textures, and touch
  • May have unusual use of vision or gaze—looks at objects from unusual angles

How to Discuss Autism Concerns with Your Child’s Pediatrician

Most pediatricians will screen your baby for early signs of autism during their first well-child visit. It is also recommended that all children receive a formal ASD screening between 18 and 24 months of age. Bear in mind, you know your child best; if your child has a negative screen for ASD, but you still have concerns, let your pediatrician know that you have questions. The CDC has developed a free milestone tracker app to help parents keep track of their child’s healthy development. You can refer to this information and share your questions about any missed milestones when you visit your well-check visits.

What to Expect if ASD is Suspected in Your Child

A positive ASD screening does not mean that your child has autism. Your child’s pediatrician will refer them to a specialist for a full diagnosis. If your child is diagnosed with ASD, your primary care provider will help you create a treatment plan for your little one. Thanks to increased awareness of autism, early diagnosis has led to early intervention. Studies have shown that early intervention can greatly improve overall quality of life. There are many treatment types available to help your child thrive with autism. These treatments can be: behavioral, developmental, educational, social-relational, pharmacological, psychological, complementary and alternative, learn more about each of these treatment methods here.

Where to Find Additional Guidance and Support

It is important for parents of children on the autism spectrum to know that they are not alone. There are a variety of parental support and meet-up groups in most cities. Families in Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana may consider visiting the groups linked in this article for listings in their area. Autism Speaks can also provide assistance and trusted resources for families nationwide.

Urgent Care for Children takes pride in serving as the nation’s first sensory-inclusive pediatric urgent care clinic. All 19 of our UC4C clinics throughout the southeast provide sensory amenities as a convenience to parents; from a quiet room to sensory bags and a mobile sensory unit. More importantly, all of our staff and providers are trained through a partnership with KultureCity to better engage with children and young people ages zero to 21 expressing sensory needs. It’s just one of the many ways UC4C seeks to support children and their families throughout the continuum of care all 365 days a year.