If you suspect a developmental delay, don’t wait

Last Modified: 4/27/2021

Autism

April is World Autism Month. According to providers like Lisa Bergeron, MD, who sees young patients at the Parkview Pediatric Developmental Center, we need to focus on diagnosing and offering resources for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder earlier. Intervention at a younger age can make a world of difference. In this post, Dr. Bergeron shares more about the relationship between the age of diagnosis and outcomes.

What are some trends you're seeing in regard to autism age and diagnosis?

​For the state of Indiana, the average age of diagnosis for autism is 54 months. Unfortunately, with getting a diagnosis at this later age, we miss out on a critical period of brain development, when those connections within the brain are forming. As those who care for children, we strive to appropriately diagnose any delay, such as autism, as quickly as we can.

For autism specifically, we would like to see a diagnosis around 2-3 years of age. In our new Parkview Pediatric Developmental Center, we have the ability as a team to evaluate children for autism as early as 15 months. This gives us that extra time to employ intensive early intervention therapies. With early recognition from parents and providers, we can help get that age of diagnosis for autism down to a younger age and get the important therapies started earlier, which can lead to improved prognosis for many children’s futures.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted these trends in any way?

Unfortunately, COVID has impacted so many things. We are very fortunate at Parkview to be able to continue to see and assess children referred to us for autism in person. We’ve been able to maintain this practice by having some strict policies in place to reduce exposure to the virus for our patients and providers, such as only one parent in the room. There are many providers within our surrounding areas who are still not seeing children in person for autism assessments. We feel very fortunate that we get to see our patients face to face.

What are some early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder that parents should not ignore?

It’s important to be aware that the heart of autism delays include issues and difficulties with language and social interactions. Here are some things parents can watch for:

  • If a child has a language delay and is not saying words when expected
  • If a child is not interested in interacting with others, even caretakers or siblings
  • If a child is not interested in playing with toys or in playing with certain unusual objects (strings, rocks, twigs, kitchen utensils) in a repetitive manner

These are some of the most common early signs of concern for autism. If a parent is worried about any delay, not just tied to autism, it’s important to address it. It can be scary to think that something being wrong with your child. Others may tell you to wait, but if you have a feeling that something is different, get help. It is better to know what’s going on and develop a plan to get the support you and your child need.

At what age might a parent start seeing these behaviors?

Typically, the earliest signs appear around a year of age. More noticeable signs appear around 18 months to 2 years.

Why is prompt intervention so important?

Prompt intervention is important because the earlier we address these deficits and challenges, the better the outcomes for most children. Think of it this way, as children grow older, there is more they learn and are expected to know. For instance, at a year, a child may say 1-2 words, but at 18 months they may say up to 25-50 words. As time goes on with a delay, the gap widens.

If we address things early, it’s easier to help the child catch up. So in this very simplified example, teaching 2 words is a lot easier than teaching 50 words. Also, the brain is rapidly developing within the first five years of life, and especially the first three years of life. If we can intervene early, we can help to establish those all-important connections within the brain earlier and the result will be more improved outcomes. It’s a well-known fact that early intervention decreases costs later on down the road. This includes financial costs for families as well as schools.

Who should a parent work with or express these concerns to?

A parent should express these concerns to their child's primary care provider. Let your provider know of your concern and your desire to help your child in any way possible. Parents are the best advocates for their children!

How can the Parkview Pediatric Developmental Center team help?

We have an absolutely outstanding team in the Parkview Pediatric Developmental Center. All of our team members have extensive experience working with children with autism and all children with special needs. What is unique about our wonderful team, is we are a true team. We work together for the needs of the patient and their family.

Our current team consists of a child psychologist, a developmental pediatrician, two trained developmental nurse practitioners, two speech pathologists, two occupational therapists, a pediatric mental health provider and a psychometrician. Our entire staff,  from the front desk to our clinical providers, are expertly trained in treating and working with patients who have special needs. When we as a team assess your child, we as a team meet and discuss our findings together to come up with an individualized plan specifically designed for your child and your family. It makes a difference when your team has the expertise of working with children with autism. When we see your child, we are all committed to working together to benefit your child!

 

 

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