Should your child be screened for Autism?
With one in every 110 children —and one in 70 boys—being diagnosed as autistic, chances are you probably know someone living with autism. April is National Autism Awareness Month and a new report says parents should be more aware than ever. The report, published by Science Daily from a study appearing in the Feb. 2017 issue of Pediatrics, found that the earlier a child is diagnosed with autism and treated, the better long-term outcomes they experienced for future relationships and careers.
Like most medical conditions or disorders, experts say early detection is key. However, this same study also found that most children aren’t detected and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) until around the age of 4, with children from economically disadvantaged or minority backgrounds typically diagnosed up to two years later. That’s why regular well-child checkups are so important.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants receive seven well-child visits during their first two years. Pediatricians start screening your baby for signs of developmental or communication challenges of ASD from his or her very first well-child visit. Your pediatrician observes how your baby giggles, looks to you for reassurance, tries to regain your attention during a conversation, points or waves, responds to his or her name and cries. Those observations in combination with family history, health examinations and parental perspectives remain extremely valuable in helping identify children at risk for ASD.
In Tulsa, most pediatricians screen children for autism at the 18- and 24-month well-child visits in addition to regular developmental checks. This is based on a national recommendation from the AAP. This screening can identify children with significant developmental and behavioral challenges early, when they may benefit most from intervention, as well as those with other developmental difficulties. For screening to be effective, it must be applied to all children – not only those with symptoms.
In most offices, pediatricians use the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), a 23-point questionnaire filled out by parents. Most families find it easy to fill out. Using this standardized screening, pediatricians can pick up children at risk for ASD and will be prompted to start conversations about language delay, concerns about behavior, or possible next steps for a child at risk with additional genetic, neurologic or developmental testing.
As important as these screenings are, they are not diagnosing. Just because your child may have a positive screen for ASD, it doesn’t mean he or she will be diagnosed on the spectrum. On the reverse, if your child screens normally but you continue to worry about ASD, don’t be shy. Speak up and talk with your pediatrician about your concerns.
So, as parents, what should we look for concerning ASD? While all children grow and develop at different rates, it is important to know what the developmental milestones are for each age and to talk to your child’s doctor if he or she is not reaching those milestones.
Important Development Milestones:
- By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions.
- By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions
- By 12 months: Lack of response to name
- By 12 months: No babbling or “baby talk”
- By 12 months: No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving
- By 16 months: No spoken words
- By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases that don’t involve imitating or repeating
If you are concerned about your child’s communication or behavior due to a family history of ASD, the way he or she talks or acts, or other people’s comments about his or her behavior, don’t wait to talk with your pediatrician about doing more. If the first doctor doesn’t respond to you or take you seriously, get a second opinion.