Autism - The Need for Early Diagnosis and Intervention - Dr. Tahir Saeed - Clinical Psychologist

In today’s world everyone is quite familiar with the word Autism due to the powerful and easily accessible media and internet. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism now affects about 1 in 68 children. That is a startling statistic, considering the rate was estimated at 1 in 88 in 2007 and 1 in 1,000 just ten years ago.
Autism affects 1 in 68 children 
The rise in number of ASD has nothing to do with the environmental changes or personal conditions rather it is mainly due to more awareness and knowledge about ASD.
ASD was always there, however, we were not very well equipped to identify it and was often misdiagnosed with different type of mental conditions.
Presently, we have better tools and training to differentiate ASD from mental problems and other specific disorder such as ADHD, Developmental delay, Coordination Disorder and Specific Speech and Language Disorder. Secondly, research has established that ASD is a genetic related neurodevelopmental problem and therefore this could also be one of the factors for its rise with the increase in population.
Many researchers suggest that ASD can be identified from as early as 6 months of age where the parents suspect delay in motor skills and social communication.
The advantages of early diagnosis is that one can intervene early as the brain is still in a developing stage and as we know now that our brain is like plastic and can be modified and changed with intervention.
Red Flags to look for when child is between 6 and 12 months old.
* If your baby cries incessantly and for no reasons.
* If the baby is too passive and does not respond.
* The child does not respond to smile when approached by parent/caregiver.
* The child is oblivious of his environment and does not respond to sound/name.
* The child has no interest in imitating sounds or movements of others.
* Speech is significantly delayed and does not make any sound.
* Does not use gestures for communication.
* Eye contact is very poor.
* Seeks your attention infrequently and need based. 
* Tendency to stiffen arms, legs or displays unusual body movements.
* Does not reach up toward you when you reach to pick them up.
* Delays in motor development.
* No interest in toys or only interested in a part of a toy.
* Interested to be spun around.
* Obsessional engagement in activity/objects.

“If signs of Autism are noted in the child, it is strongly recommended to contact a Child Clinical Psychologist

One has to be very careful while going for an intervention as there are many therapies available in the market that have no research evidence to support.
Innocent parents/caregivers who are desperate to get help for their children are deceived by these so called therapists of a complete/partial cure by following their intervention plan. For them it is a money making business at the cost of other sufferings. There are doctors who would advise medication for children with ASD.

However, psychosocial intervention which includes Psychology, Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy is strongly recommended as research indicates (counter) negative results with the use of medication.

“Children with autism need intensive intervention using specialized program”

What parents need to understand……

* The child can respond well, if parents / caregiver start spending quality time with him/her, especially for those who are at risk.

*  They need to engage the child in play. Children with ASD find playing very challenging and need a lot of input in this area.

*  It is important that the parents / caregiver take out at least 30 minutes of their time every day and sit with the child on the floor and engage them in play that includes sharing, turn taking, and imitational / role play.

*  Also, it is important to provide opportunities for children to interact with other children and therefore enroll them in a play group, Montessori, etc.  Initially these sessions should be of a short duration depending upon the child’s ability to stay in a strange environment and gradually build it. 

“The earlier the detection the better is the outcome and prognosis”