April is National Autism Awareness Month and doctors at Atrium Health Navicent invite the community to help raise awareness about autism by learning more about the condition that affects 1 in 36 children in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability. People with autism often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. People with autism may also have different ways of learning, moving or paying attention.
Scientists believe there are multiple causes of autism, some known and some unknown. Research indicates that genetics are involved in the vast majority of cases. Children born to older parents also are at a higher risk for having autism. Parents who have one autistic child have a greater chance of having a second child who is also affected.
Autism is four times more commonly diagnosed among boys than girls and affects children in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Autism begins before age 3 and can last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children show symptoms within the first 12 months of life. In others, symptoms may not show up until a child’s second birthday or later.
Early signs of autism include lack of eye contact, little sharing of sounds or facial expressions, delayed speech or lack of pointing to items of interest for social purposes. Physicians advise that parents should always have a conversation with their child’s care team when they have concerns about developmental skills or behavior.
“If parents have any concerns regarding their child's development, or they are seeing signs of possible autism, they should speak directly to their pediatrician and can request a referral for further evaluation. Our team at Atrium Health Navicent Children’s Care Pediatric Developmental and Behavioral Health is available to complete evaluations and provide services to help children grow, develop and thrive,” said Dr. Rachel Goodson, an Atrium Health Navicent developmental behavioral pediatrician.
Screening for autism is recommended to be completed by a pediatrician or other primary care provider at 18 and 24 months of age, even if there are no specific concerns for autism. If the screening shows concerns, children can then be referred for additional evaluations by a specialist.
Recognizing signs of autism at an early age is important because as children with autism become adolescents and young adults, they may have difficulties developing and maintaining friendships, communicating with peers and adults, or understanding what behaviors are expected in school or at work.
The good news is that Atrium Health Navicent Children's Care Pediatric Developmental and Behavioral Health offers many services to support individuals with autism and their families. These include speech therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy for children. A licensed marriage and family therapist offers counseling services for individuals and families along with behavioral therapy. Additionally, the center offers coordination of care and medical management for many related conditions such as ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety.
“While there is no cure for autism, intervention services – when started early – can improve learning, social functioning and communication to help children to live their best lives, and to offer support for parents and other caregivers,” said April Colley, an Atrium Health Navicent Children’s Care Pediatric Developmental and Behavioral Health nurse practitioner.
Because autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that occurs on a spectrum, it affects individuals differently. Therefore, it’s important to debunk some common myths surrounding autism.
Myth: Everyone with autism is non-verbal.
Fact: Language deficits can range from impaired social communication to poor comprehension to a lack of speech entirely. Among individuals with autism, only 40 percent are non-speaking.
Myth: People with autism are best suited for jobs that require repetitive tasks.
Fact: Since autism is a spectrum disorder, there is no specific type of job that will be appropriate for all individuals. While many adults with autism may enjoy repetitive tasks, it is incorrect to assume a job is a good match solely based on a medical diagnosis. Individuals with autism have many diverse strengths, talents and skills that would benefit employers in varying job fields.
Myth: Autistic individuals cannot form relationships.
Fact: Although social interaction is impaired in people with autism, this does not mean they cannot form relationships with others. Individuals with autism can and do have fulfilling relationships with family, friends, spouses and children.
Myth: Vaccines cause autism.
Fact: While there is no known single cause of autism spectrum disorder, there is no evidence to support a link between vaccines and autism. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a list of the research studies that demonstrate there is no link between vaccines and autism.
For more information about available services, or to find a developmental behavioral pediatrician, visit https://navicenthealth.org/adcnh/developmental-behavioral-pediatrics.