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NORFOLK-Many parents are alarmed by the rising number of young children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Health officials say approximately 1 out of 88 children born today will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

CHKD pediatrician John Harrington with General Academic Pediatrics has information on autism screening and early intervention.

Tip 1: What is Autism and how early is it diagnosed?
Autism spectrum disorder is a neuro-developmental disorder that is apparent in the first three years of life. Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls. As of May 2013 new criteria for autism were released via the DSM V or the Diagnostic Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders. Two main symptom criteria were agreed upon
1. Difficulty with social communication and social interaction: This generally appears as an inability to have a back and forth conversation, poor eye contact, and apparent absence of interest in other people.
2. Restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests: This may appear as repetitive speech or echoing others speech, unable to break routines or rituals, and having a fascination with lights or spinning objects
The cause of autism is still unknown. Research suggests that autism is a combination of your genetics and your environment.

Tip 2: Why is early screening so important?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for all children at 18 months and again at 24 months.
Many physicians use the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers commonly called the M-CHAT which is a 23 yes, no questionnaire. A parent can actually do the screening from home at the website www.m-chat.org .
Many times parents notice signs before the physician such as; no babbling, pointing, or gesturing by age 12 months; no single words spoken by age 18 months; no two-word spontaneous expressions by age 24 months; loss of any language or social skills at any age. If a parent is concerned and/or if the MCHAT is positive the doctor can order a second-level screening to determine your child's risk of autism.

Tip 3: Why is early treatment of Autism so important?
Children with autism require an individualized intensive behavioral treatment plan. Intensive behavior therapy like Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA during the toddler years and home-based approaches that involve parents produce the best results.
Additional educational programs that teach social skills, motor skills and decrease aggressive or impulsive behaviors can also be very helpful.
Medication can be helpful in treating some co-morbid symptoms of autism.

CHKD has a day-long conference next month called Insights into Autism where you canlearn more about the DSM V, the diagnosis and genetics of autism, and about resources.

Insights Into Autism
February 7 at CHKD/Brickhouse Auditorium
$35 registration fee
Times: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Click here to register

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