BY MICHELLE SMITH
April is known as Autism awareness month. April 2nd, 2016 was celebrated as World Autism Awareness Day. Thousands of landmarks, including the CN tower went Blue to raise global awareness about autism spectrum disorder. According to Autism Canada, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobiological condition that can affect the normal function of the gastrointestinal, immune, hepatic, endocrine and nervous systems. It impacts normal brain development leaving most individuals with communication problems, difficulty with typical social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism. There is no standard “type” or “typical” person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder but being able to recognize early signs is the key for early diagnosis. Presently, we do not have a medical test that can diagnose autism. For this reason parents should pay attention to their child’s social and language skills as well as their child’s play skills and body movements.
One of the common complaints that I hear from parents is their frustration with navigating the healthcare system. As your advocate, it is very important to promote knowledge and awareness daily. Early detection is the key, when handling any health issue. It is very important to help you identify ways in which you can navigate the healthcare and social system more effectively.
Every Child develops differently, however understanding healthy milestones in child development is used to help Parents and Doctors see if children are developing accordingly. Remember not every delay calls for a trip to the doctors. But notably be aware. One thing that I insist on, is being persistent when you require medical attention. The alliance between families and providers is the key to supporting your child’s progress, but this can be difficult for parents who have limited English proficiency or lack the knowledge and skills to access systems of care successfully.
I have always stated that it is very important for care providers to use cultural competence in identifying early signs of ASD and making appropriate referrals for diagnosis and treatment. This factor can really affect the outcome if parents are not sure about what signs should be alarming. According to The Mother Company, the average age at which a child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in the United States is around four years old. Most parents who ultimately get a diagnosis report having concerns about their child’s development or behavior by the time the child is just eighteen months old. Some early warning signs for an autism spectrum disorder include: By nine months, child does not babble or make sounds back-and-forth with you, By one year, child does not respond to his/her name being called, By one year, child does not point to objects, Child avoids making eye contact, Child moves his/her body in repetitive ways, e.g., hand flapping or body rocking, Child demonstrates a delay in language or child who can speak does not attempt to use language to communicate, Child has any developmental regression or loss of skill.
It is no secret that health literacy increases when families understand the care needed for themselves or their children. If you suspect that your child or someone you know has autism spectrum disorder, please consult with your family doctor, neurologist, psychologist and developmental pediatrician. As your advocate, I am able to help you navigate the system as well as help you understand the signs that you should be reporting to your physician. Remember you are the most important part of your health care team.