April is Autism Awareness Month. As you may know from the myriad of public service announcements on the television and radio this month, 1 in every 150 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Autism spectrum disorders affect children's development and social skills. The spectrum is broken down into three categories:
2. Asperger syndrome (Some lay people refer to this as high-functioning autism.)
3. Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (A catch-all group for any child that does not meet the strict requirements for the above two diagnoses.)
It is indisputable that the number of children diagnosed with autism has increased over the years. The reason behind this may in part be attributed to the fact that more pediatricians and parents are aware of autism and on the lookout for it. It may also be due to autism being classified as a is a spectrum of disorders which allows children who do not meet the classic autism criteria to still be diagnosed and qualify to receive the services they need.
Autism spectrum disorders are lifelong conditions; however, with early intervention children may be able to learn skills that allow them to function better both developmentally and socially. For this reason, early intervention is key. If you are concerned about your child's development, social skills or communication skills you should bring this to the attention of your pediatrician. Don't wait for your child's next check-up. If you believe your child isn't meeting his milestones or seems uninterested bonding with you, make an appointment as soon as possible to discuss your concerns and the possible need for an evaluation by a developmental specialist.
However keep in mind that isolated developmental delays are more common than autism. If your child has an isolated developmental or speech delay, your pediatrician will discuss with you what further work-up is necessary. Some developmental and speech delays may be caused by an underlying problem that if fixed will help resolve the delay. For example, if your child has a speech or communicative delay your pediatrician will probably refer him for a comprehensive hearing evaluation.
Regardless of the cause, isolated speech and motor delays also respond best to early intervention. Speech, physical, and occupational therapy are all available through the local regional center or public school depending on your child's age. The CDC has a wonderful website that explains how to get your child evaluated and what resources are available for children with developmental delays.
Remember every child is different and the vast majority of variation in developmental patterns is completely normal but if you have any concern at all you should discuss it with your child's pediatrician.