The American Academy of Pediatrics has released two reports urging doctors and parents to begin screening children for autism at an earlier age and to begin a course of treatment even before diagnosis is certain. While the search continues for a cure for autism, there are currently several courses of treatment that have proven to be beneficial.
Discovering the illness early in a child’s life can significantly enhance the possibility of successful treatment. Typically the first indication for parents that something is amiss with their child is a delay in the onset of talking, even though there are detectable signs much earlier in a child’s life. Not until the child is around eighteen months of age do most parents of autistic children begin to raise the issue with a pediatrician. Diagnosis is usually made by age three. Treatment can be further delayed, as many parents have reported, due to a cautious, wait-and-see approach taken by many pediatricians that assume the parents are overzealous. Unfortunately even by the age of two, valuable treatment time has already been lost.
LEARN TO RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS
There are several early warning signs for autism at a very young age. According to the reports, parents should be watchful for the following common signals:
- Doesn’t appear to recognize Mom’s or Dad’s voice
- Doesn’t gaze at Mom or Dad
- Doesn’t respond to his or her name, but has keen awareness of other noises
- Doesn’t ‘babble’
- Doesn’t point or wave
- Doesn’t say small phrases such as “oh-oh” or “bye-bye”
Treatments include behavior management, pharmacology, dietary changes and holistic and herbal therapies. There is much debate about which treatments are appropriate. What seems to work in one case has little or no effect in another. It is difficult for parents to decide the best course of treatment when there is so little consensus, even among the experts.
Pre-toddler stage is an ideal time to introduce coping strategies to the autistic child and his parents. These skills, like any learned early in life, can be developed and perfected over time. Since autism is carried into adulthood as with any other learned skill, the sooner these strategies can be implemented; the greater the chance for successful implementation.
There are literally dozens of prescription medicines being used to treat autism today. These medicines target the specific symptom or greatest challenge facing each patient. Medicines ranging from behavior modification drugs to sleep enhancement prescriptions to acid-reflux remedies. Each patient’s symptoms and autism complications are different. The best advice for parents is to take responsibility for learning as much about their child’s prescribed medicines as possible, and then to weigh the benefits and risks. Recently, harmful and even life-threatening side effects of some commonly prescribed drugs have come under scrutiny.
According to the Autism Research Institute, there are “22 published studies based on research conducted by scientists in 6 countries, demonstrating that vitamin B6 (usually in combination with the mineral magnesium) brings about highly significant improvement in autistic children and adults.” In addition, gluten-free and casein-free diets have shown promise in treating autism.