For many parents and caregivers the concern that their child isn’t meeting their milestones can be considerably overwhelming. Seeking support from informed health professionals, organizations and close family members can be especially useful.
Autism awareness month is an important time for parents to turn their attention to their child’s overall growth and development. It is an opportunity for parents to take time to review their child’s healthcare records and ask relevant questions of their pediatrician. Many pediatricians will administer standard developmental assessments (e.g., Ages and Stages Questionnaire) at yearly well visits. However, they may not administer more specific screeners for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), such as the M-CHAT-R. The M-CHAT-R is an autism screening questionnaire administered at the 18-month and 24-month well visit. If your pediatrician has not administered the M-CHAT-R it can be found online and self-administered, and any concerns can then be raised with your provider (www.m-chat.org).
ASD is a highly prevalent (1 in 68 children, 1 in 42 boys) neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by delays in social communication and the presence of repetitive behaviors that may include hyper or hypo reactivity to sensory experiences. ASD can be detected as early as 12 months of age. An early diagnosis of ASD is the best predictor of a positive outcome. Additional information about the signs and symptoms of ASD can be found on the Autism Speaks website (www.autismspeaks.org).
If early signs of ASD are detected, assessment and treatment are available through the New York State Department of Health Early Intervention (EI) program for children ages 0-3.
Parents who call their local EI program will have concerns about their child’s development evaluated and addressed. EI services target developmental delays that may require speech and language intervention, physical therapy, occupational therapy, special education and/or applied behavioral analysis. On Long Island, EI services are available through Nassau County (516-227-8661) and Suffolk County (631-853-3100).
It can be anxiety provoking to consider whether your child may be experiencing a developmental delay possibly related to ASD. Local support groups are available to parents, caregivers and siblings and can be found through the Adler Center at the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center (www.miyjcc.org) and the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association (ahany.org). There is also support offered through the Village of East Hills in Roslyn for parents who have general concerns about their child’s development (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for meeting dates).
Autism awareness month reminds us that knowing how to identify the signs of a developmental delay, who to call and where to get support increases the likelihood of early identification and a better outcome for your child.
Alison Gilbert, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is currently a clinical assistant professor at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine with a certificate in autism spectrum disorders from U.C. Davis.