Autism Spotted at Age 14 Months
Early Autism Detection Widens Window for Effective Treatment
Parent: Child Seemed Normal continued...
Autism clearly has a strong genetic component. But genes aren't destiny,
"Your brain development isn't just engineered by your genetics. Your
experience plays a role in your outcome," Landa says. "So if a toddler
isn't attending to social cues and develops these patterns of behavior that
make it hard to engage with others, the child isn't getting learning
opportunities. It becomes a vicious cycle. We want to disrupt this cycle, to
teach children how to engage with objects in diverse ways. We teach them to
have joint interactions with people that are rewarding."
It isn't easy. Maloni says she tries to engage her sons in social play
"every waking moment." But the results are more than rewarding.
"Normal kids, when a parent walks out the door, the child is screaming,
and when they come back they are glad to see them. But our children didn't even
notice we were gone," Maloni says. "Now we walk through the door and
they run over to us. They are happy when we are there and know when we are not
there. It is very gratifying."
Spotting at-Risk Kids
Landa says every parent with a family history of autism -- or who suspects that a
child may not be developing normally -- should have that child screened for
autism by age 18 months if not sooner.
"Parents usually just look at whether their child walks on time and
talks on time," she says. "They might not pay attention to the kinds of
objects a child gravitates toward, or lack of diversity in play, or failure of
a child to give and show objects. But if you specifically ask parents about
certain behaviors, it can be a wake up call for the parents. That is why I
Autism strikes 1 in every 166 children -- it is not rare. A simple one-page,
23-item questionnaire called the M-CHAT helps identify toddlers who need further
testing. The test can be found on the Internet, but Landa warns parents to take
the completed test to a health care professional for evaluation. The test is
not meant to be scored by the person taking it.
Identifying a 14-month-old child as at risk for autism is not the same as an
autism diagnosis, Landa warns. Children vary widely in their speed of
"Kids who aren't talking or walking or have developmental delays;
children who have problems with social reciprocity, who are not very responsive
to having their name called, who are not responsive to silly little teasing
games, who are not giving objects to you and giggling with you and playing
turn-taking games -- those things are really big red flags," she says.
"But developmental fluctuations at this age are not uncommon. So when we
talk to parents of children under 24 months of age, we should be talking about
social communication delays and risk for autism, rather than laying out a
diagnosis at this time."