You notice your child doesn't have the language skills
that other kids do. He only plays with one toy, and he doesn't look you in the
eye. You think there may be something wrong, but you're not sure. You take him
to your health care provider and get the diagnosis: autism.
Autism, a developmental disorder, occurs in one out
of every 500 children, and it's more common in children than diabetes, cancer,
or Down syndrome.
"Many parents have the mental image of their child
in the corner rocking. This image (of an autistic child) just isn't typical,"
says Karen Mason, M.D., assistant professor of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics
at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
"Parents always dream of having the perfect child.
Parents have problems adjusting to any diagnosis that tells them that their child
isn't perfect. But three out of every four kids with autism who get therapy early
will be in a regular classroom by the time they reach school age."
Autism is a genetic brain disorder that leads
to deficits in three areas:
- Social interaction: They don't look at their parents. They aren't "cuddly."
They don't come to their parents for comfort when they are hurt.
- Language: Children with autism aren't interested in language and often do
not speak. Parents even may think their child is deaf or has hearing problems.
- Patterns or areas of interest: They are dependent on a routine, and they
have trouble transitioning from one thing to the next. Children with autism
may only play with one toy.
Children with autism are typically boys and they usually
develop normally until they are 18 months old.
Children who do not show signs of all three delays
may show one or two symptoms, and may be diagnosed with other disorders. Children
with Asperger's Disorder have problems with social interaction and they restrict
their areas of interest. Children with one of the three characteristics may have
Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
If you suspect autism
If parents suspect their child may be autistic,
here are three questions to ask yourself. "No" answers to all three
questions may indicate your child has a disorder.
Regardless of the answers to these questions, if you
do suspect there is a problem, make sure you discuss your concerns with your child's
health care provider.
- Does your child look in the direction when you point something out?
- Does your child ever point anything out to you?
- Does your child play pretend?
"There is no magic pill," Mason says. "But
with therapy, most children can learn to be more interactive. They can expand
their areas of interest, and they can learn language."