As the prevalence of autism has risen in the past decade, more families are dealing with the disorder. Sara S. Wallace, MD, FAAP, with Lexington Pediatric Practice answers parents' common questions about autism.
Q. What is autism?
A. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental disorder that affects 1-2% of children. It is characterized by difficulties with social skills and communication, along with restrictive, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities.
Q. What are the early warning signs parents may notice?
A. While routine screening for autism typically takes place between 18 months and 24 months of age, some parents may notice signs of autism during the first year of life. Early signs of autism may include:
- Poor eye contact
- Not smiling at others by 6 months of age
- Not babbling or pointing by age 1
- Not responding to sounds or their name
- Not reacting to a parent’s facial expressions
- Not pointing at objects of interest
- Restricted food preferences
- Hand flapping
- Making unusual finger movements near their eyes
- Getting upset by everyday noises
Q. How early can autism be diagnosed?
A. Typically, autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 14-16 months. However, the average age at diagnosis is 4 years old.
Q. Does everyone with autism have the same symptoms?
A. As the name implies, autism is a spectrum, meaning that not everyone with autism will experience the same symptoms. Each child may have their own unique strengths and challenges, and there are wide variations in the type and severity of symptoms that people may experience.
Q. Is autism related to IQ?
A. It is important to note that autism is not related to IQ. While some children with ASD may have an intellectual disability, many have IQ scores in the average or above average range.
Q. Has the incidence of autism increased in recent years?
Researchers have noticed that the incidence of autism has increased in recent years. This is likely attributed to growing awareness about autism leading to improved screening tools and early detection.
Q. What should a parent do if they’re concerned their child is showing warning signs of autism?
A. If you believe that your child may have signs of autism, schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss your concerns. They can perform screenings for autism and refer to specialists such as developmental pediatricians or child psychologists and psychiatrists for evaluation and testing, as well as get your child plugged into early intervention services and therapies.