The earlier a child is diagnosed or identified to be at risk of developing autism, the sooner they can start receiving intervention and therapy, says Dr Iravati A Purandare, Consultant in Paediatric Neurodevelopment, Sir H. N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai
Written by Dr Iravati Purandare
Every year, more and more children are being diagnosed with autism. The time of diagnosis is variable for every child, being more often later than earlier. It’s an anxious and frustrating process for the parents till they finally get an understanding of what is going on with their child. Even after the diagnosis, many parents are confused with what it really means for the future, and what is the optimal treatment. The earlier a child is diagnosed or identified to be at risk of developing autism, the sooner they can start receiving intervention and therapy. Early intervention ensures significantly improved outcomes.
This complicated disorder doesn’t mean your child is sick. It just means that your child’s brain works differently from others and since autism occurs across a spectrum, everybody with the disorder has different needs.
2) Denial in parents: Even though parents can feel that something is amiss, they attribute it to a lack of social exposure. They want to hold on to normalcy as perceived by society.
3) Preconceived notions or ideas that academic/ physical proficiency means that all is good.
4) Reassurances by families and friends, and waiting for the children to ‘outgrow’ the condition.
5) Inhibition for seeking medical help.
6) Varied spectrum of presentation in different kids, with change in symptoms over time. Sometimes, high-functioning children are less likely to be diagnosed early. Sometimes the signs and symptoms get confused with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
What are the early signals that parents and families should look out for to seek medical attention, especially during the first two years?
Lack of the following responses:
1) Warm, delightful, happy smiles when they see their parents.
2) Immediate response when called.
3) Sustained eye contact during interaction and play. They usually don’t respond to peek-a-boo.
4) Meaningful gaze, gestures, pointing, speech with intention to share experiences, convey feelings and needs.
5) Responses to simple questions like where is mummy?/show me your nose/how does daddy cough? How does a dog bark?
6) Active seeking of conversation and interaction by the child.
7) Imitation of parents and emerging imaginative play through observation of the surroundings.
8) Speech in words, half words or meaningful utterances.
9) Normal sleep, toileting, feeding pattern.
It is crucial that we identify these red flags within at least one and a half years of the child being born. Catch the ‘golden window’ of your child’s developmental stage; don’t miss this opportunity for making a change. Give your child the best chance.