April is Autism awareness month. But what exactly is Autism? Autism is defined as a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. Autism can affect any race, color or ethnicity. According to Autism Speaks, this condition is found in 1 in 68 children, even further broken down 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That being said I guarantee that each of you reading this knows someone who is on the spectrum or who's child is on the spectrum. Sadly, there is no cure at this time, so it will be a lifelong journey for the kiddo and their parents. What kind of signs or symptoms should one watch for in their child when considering that they may have Autism or something on the spectrum? Children (or adults) who have this condition may show inappropriate social interaction, have poor eye contact. They may have trouble with compulsion or impulsive behaviors. You might notice them doing repetitive movements, causing self-harm, or speak with repetition. Children especially may show a delay in speech and or learning. Those affected may show intense interest in a limited number of things or have problem paying attention. They are also often unaware of others' emotions or depression. Those affected may also have severe anxiety, sensitivity to sound, or show a tic.
There are so many signs and symptoms how would you ever know how much is just a child being a child or that they may have a problem of some kind? According to the CDC, diagnosing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult, since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors have to look at the child's behavior and development to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. This can be troubling for many parents as they just want a diagnosis for their kiddo. But like said above there is no quick way to diagnose a spectrum disorder. That being said Autism Speaks has published a study that evaluated social and communication development in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) from 14 to 36 months of age. And it revealed that approximately half of all children with autism can be diagnosed around the first birthday.
Okay so now the child has been diagnosed but what can be done to treat the condition? Treating the condition can often times be as hard as diagnosing it. There are MANY options for treatment. And some of them may not work for your child. Many of the available options will be tailored to the specific child (person) and their own set of signs and symptoms. Treatment consists of many different kinds of therapy.
Early recognition, as well as behavioral, educational, and family therapies may reduce symptoms and support development and learning. Therapy is going to be one of the most commonly used types of treatment. But it's not just the therapy that most people think of where the child would go sit in a psychiatrist or psychologist office. It's is more specific and intense. Below are options for different kinds of therapy. Each of which has its own significant benefit.
Anger management which works to helps the child to learn to practice mindfulness, learn coping mechanisms, and how the can avoid triggers to minimize destructive emotional outbursts.
Family therapy would consist of psychological counseling that helps the entire family learn how to resolve conflicts, and communicate more effectively with one another.
Applied behavior analysis. This is a teaching method that helps autistic children learn socially significant skills by encouraging positive behavior.
Behavior therapy is a therapy that focuses on modifying harmful behaviors associated with psychological distress.
Sensory processing is a MAJOR problem for many oh whom are on the spectrum. This kind of therapy works on the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and helps to turn them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.
Some children respond well to Animal-Assisted therapy, while other won't find it helpful at all. This kind of therapy uses animals to enhance the physical, emotional, as well as social well-being of humans.
Other options may be physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. Speech therapy will work on voice rehabilitation. Occupational therapy will work to Improves daily living and work skills of patients.
Another treatment modality is Medications. This is often not the first method of treatment tried because of the often times young age of the child. But is available if needed. Medications are oftentimes seen used more in older children, teens and adults, due to their side effects. The options for treatment by medication are listed down below.
Antipsychotic this is a classification of medications that reduce or improves the symptoms of certain psychiatric conditions.
In order to treat these children (and older kids and adults) there is going to be a treatment TEAM approach. The child will be doing some, a few or maybe even all of the kind of therapies listed above. They will often times also have a neurologist who treats the nervous system part of the condition. A clinical psychologist who the mental disorders primarily with talk therapy. (This is only usually an option obviously for older kiddos, teens and adults). They may also see a Psychiatrist who treats mental disorders primarily with medications like the ones we discussed above. The littler kiddos will have Pediatrician who provides medical care for infants, children, and teenagers. And as they get older they will have a Primary care provider (PCP) who works on Prevention, diagnoses, and treats diseases.
This like many others is a condition that affects not just the child on the spectrum but all the members of the family, especially the parent(s). It is recommended sometimes that the whole family see a therapist to help them deal with their issues regarding the condition. And as with many other conditions, it is recommended that the parents find some kind of support group. Whether it be friends who have children who are also on the spectrum or actual support groups. Those can be found in a lot of major cities if the parent would like to physically attend a meeting. Or online if there are not options in their area.
I spoke with a Mom (Kyndel) who's a mom of three and her first son and oldest is on the spectrum. I asked her what things she thinks are most important for someone who knows little to know about autism and what moms starting the journey should know!! And here is what she had to say. Here is her advice to others dealing with a child on the spectrum. Not all doctors you find are going to be helpful after diagnosis. You may have to find new doctors through a system of train an error. She also stated that it's important to remember that there are several types of speech therapy and what works for one person may not work for the next. She said to remember that most childrens therapy will likely include speech, occupational and physical therapy. And the one thing she really stressed is that early intervention can make a big difference. The earlier you suspect something may not be quite right with your child take them in to the pediatrician and express your concerns. She also stressed that the spectrum is large, each person is not created the same. You met one person on the spectrum doesn't mean you know them all. She also wanted to point out that getting a diagnosis of a child can cause conflict in marriages. There is usually one parent who is in denial and it's rough. But as long as you work together and keep God first your marriage can make it through the hard times. I also asked Kyndle how she made sure that her younger children didn't feel left out or like her son on the spectrum got more attention. She said "I can only speek for us, but with 3 kids they all have to follow the same "rules". We dont give Kamerin special treatment. Sense doing this he knows from routine what is "expexted" of him. Such as cleaning up his plate after meal time, picking up his clothes, knowing where his shoes belong. Simple stuff. Doing this for all 3 I believe is showing the other children that Kamerin is just another child, different in some ways but not less than them or vise versa."
I hope this blog gives you a little more understand on Autsim and other conditions on the spectrum. And would now know what to watch for in your kiddos. As always I lost my resources below so feel free to check those out. And email me if you have any questions
-Amber Resources: https://www.autismspeaks.org/news/news-item/study-children-can-be-diagnosed-autism-age-one