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We all want the very best for our children! When we find out a child is on the way, our first thought is for their health and wellness. Throughout pregnancy, we do our very best to provide them with the best nutrition, safe-guarding ourselves from ingestion of harmful products, and simply try to deliver a healthy, happy baby. Once these babies are born, we again strive to give them our very best, to feed them foods to help them grow, and again to allow them the best possible chance of becoming health, happy, members of society.

As some may have gone through prenatal testing, for Down’s Syndrome, neural tube defects, or chromosomal defects. At birth, your child is also screened for other disorders. Unfortunately at this time, no blood test can screen for autism. This is very frustrating; basically the diagnosis of autism is not at all forthcoming. We, as health care providers, simply ask appropriate screening questions at each well child visit. These questions help us to determine if there should be concern of autism.

What Is Autism Really?

Autism is the name given to a group of developmental brain disorders that are characterized by poor social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive behavior. These signs usually appear before a child is three years old.

What Causes Autism:

Researchers really do not know the cause of autism, but it is thought to be a change in DNA. So, the question is what changed these children’s DNA. Is it the environment, hereditary, or even foods? Autism is a spectrum disease, meaning there levels of severity. The severity can range from a highly functioning child to a severely impaired child. In rare cases, autism can also be part of clinical presentation of a metabolic disorder (a genetic condition in which the body cannot break down or make a specific substance). This is why in some children with autistic features; a change in diet is beneficial to their condition. Numerous research studies have been unable to find a link between vaccinations and autism.

What Does Autism Look Like?

As providers, we screen children for any signs of any type of delays at each well child visit. I would encourage you to talk to your child’s health care provider, if:

By 18 Months of Age:

  •  Does not search for objects that are hidden while he or she watches
  •  Says no single words (“mama” or “dada”)
  •  Does not learn to use gestures, such as waving or shaking head
  •  Does not point to objects or pictures
  •  Experiences a dramatic loss of skills he or she once had

By 24 Months of Age:

  •  Cannot walk by 18 months
  •  Fails to develop a mature heel-toe walking pattern after several months of walking, or walks only on his toes Does not speak at least 15 words
  •  Does not use two-word sentences by age 2
  •  By 15 months, does not seem to know the function of common household objects (brush, telephone, bell, fork, spoon)
  •  Does not imitate actions or words by the end of this period
  •  Does not follow simple instructions by age 2
  •  Cannot push a wheeled toy by age 2
  •  Experiences a dramatic loss of skills he or she once had

It is important to remember that just because your child may be exhibiting one or two of these signs; does not mean your child has autism. Every child develops differently and in different stages. If you are concerned, talk with your health care provider.

So, the question still exists, why has there been a rise in autism over the last 10 years. It stands to reason that we know better how to screen and diagnose autism. In the past 20 years, the diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) has changed to include a broader range of social impairment, thereby increasing the numbers of children with this diagnosis.

Early intervention is currently the key for autistic children. Finding specialists and appropriate therapy for autistic children can be utterly frustrating. Autism does not only affect the one with the disease, it affects anyone coming into contact with that child. While continuing to search for the causes and treatments for autism, supporting the parents, siblings and the child is vital in successful improvement in the child. I am currently advocating for better education for anyone involved in the education and teaching of autistic children. This is not limited to teacher in schools, but therapists, camp counselors, Sunday school teachers, etc.