Imagine you’re watching your child play in the living room, while smiling and admiring your beautiful toddler. Your friend’s child then comes over for a “play date” and you can’t help but notice a remarkable difference between these two same-aged children. Your friend’s child is stringing together 3-4 words, constantly calling attention to toys (e.g., “Look!”), and demonstrating a lot more eye contact. Meanwhile, your child appears content playing on his own and remains fixated on this same blue Leggo piece. You’ve always thought,
“my child is more introverted”, but this is the first time you notice a significant difference in mannerisms and behaviors. You wonder: could it be more than introversion? Could my child have autism?
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a spectrum disorder; thus, no two children will look exactly the same with a diagnosis of ASD. Each child will have a distinct set of strengths and weaknesses. Overall, however, it is characterized by difficulties with social skills, speech and non-verbal communication, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States present with ASD, according to the Center of Disease and Control. So, always remember that no matter what, you are not alone in your journey to understand your child’s world.
Signs of ASD
The signs of autism usually appear by 2-3 years of age; however, some signs can appear in the first few months of a baby’s life. Below please find Table 1 and Table 2, which depict signs of ASD. It is important to remember that not all children with ASD will show these signs.
Receiving an Evaluation
If you do find that your child is exhibiting some of these signs, remember that it is important to take your child to receive a professional evaluation from a developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist. Also, remember that nowadays, the autism landscape is much brighter than it used to be. Dr. Michael Alessandri, Executive Director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities stated, “Autism outcomes are infinitely better than they were even ten years ago….Now, I meet a two year-old and I say, ‘We’re getting him or her ready for kindergarten.’” No matter the severity of an ASD diagnosis, every child can be successful in his or her own way.
The key is to get your child evaluated, as soon as you identify signs of ASD, because receiving treatment right away can be critical to his or her development. During the first few years of life, so much learning occurs due to brain plasticity. The more time that passes without receiving treatment, the more difficult it is to bridge those developmental gaps.
Many parents fear getting their child tested “too early”, as they worry a diagnosis may follow them the rest of their life, especially if it’s incorrect. However, hopefully you may take comfort in knowing that a diagnosis can change. A diagnosis allows for access to early intervention services; however, some children develop and gain the skills they need to then have a diagnosis reversal.
In short, if you notice signs, don’t delay — earlier intervention can lead to better outcomes. Even if your child does not end up having ASD, early intervention can never harm a child.
Resources post Diagnosis
Receiving a diagnosis can feel overwhelming. It is okay to feel a variety of emotions: sadness, anger, uncertainty… the unknown can be scary. After feeling the emotions, which is important to do, it is important to remember that your child is still his/her wonderful self. That same beautiful child you were admiring in your living room… it’s still him. Recognizing that you don’t have an “autistic child”, rather you have a “child with autism”, is one of the most important ways to help him/her reach full potential. In other words, understanding that this diagnosis does not define him/her.
Next, it is essential to recognize that support systems and resource groups are out there. You may naturally wonder, “where do I begin?”, and you can start right here:
- For Children 0-3 Years: Register for Early Steps (if you are not in Florida, other states may have similar programs).
- Free, government-funded program for children 0-3 years with developmental delays, that offers evaluations and treatment services. Once the child turns 3 years, he/she will automatically have a meeting to determine eligibility for special education preschools and programs through Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
- For Children 3-5 years: Register for Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource Center (FDLR)
- Program will evaluate your child and determine the necessity for special education schools and programs throughout Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
- Build a team of trusted specialists. Specialists may include a Speech Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, and/or Applied Behavioral Analyst.
- If you live in Florida, we encourage you to call Exceptional Speech Therapy to begin building a team you can trust. We are here for you.
- Contact University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University and Center for Disease and Autism (UM-NSU-CARD) for free guidance and support. They can help you design a plan of action to fit your child’s specific individualized needs (e.g., school placement, school consultations, beginning therapy, joining programs).
- Joint Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), a free, home-visiting 30 week early learning and pre-kindergarten readiness opportunity designed for 2-5 year olds. Parents spend at least 20 minutes per day with their child utilizing new concepts and methodologies to optimize overall development.
- Join Parent-to-Parent, a program that not only provides support and guidance, but also provides information on the laws that protect children with special needs. It is an empowering organizing that will help you advocate for your child.
- Join Parent Support Groups. It is important to not feel isolated or alone during this journey. Joining support groups will not only feel empowering, but you may also come to cultivate friendships with other parents who understand your thoughts and feelings.
Lastly, we encourage you to read the poem Welcome to Holland, written by Emily Kingsley, which beautifully captivates the feelings many parents experience when receiving a diagnosis for their child. It highlights that although, perhaps, this is not the path in life you planned or expected, it is a different path that can bring beautiful and meaningful experiences. You are your child’s number one advocate, and there are plentiful organizations and specialists that are here to help your child feel empowered and so, so very loved.
Written by: Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer
UM-NSU CARD Launches Free Early ASD Screening and Parent Coaching Program. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://southfloridahospitalnews.com/page/UMNSU_CARD_Launches_Free_Early_ASD_Screening_and_Parent_Coaching_Program/15418/2/