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Early Diagnosis is Critical for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The most important thing to do for parents who suspect their child may have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is arrange for an evaluation as soon as possible. While neuroscientists look for the biomarkers and other potential causes of ASD, early intervention is the most successful strategy for raising a child on the spectrum.

ASD is a complicated neurological condition, a developmental disorder that impacts people in a variety of ways including speech, social interaction, communication and motor skills. Symptoms can vary from person to person, from mild to severe, and it seems like no two people on the spectrum have the same ones. But generally those symptoms appear by age three.

Because of that wide variety of symptoms, an early assessment is not only important, but needs to be thorough. For example, there are noticeable patterns of delays, repetition or difficulty in communication that are telling. Same with social interaction when it comes to feelings, expressing emotion, or finding shared interests.

A recent study found that toddlers’ attention to so-called “mother-ese” (sing-song, high pitched and sometimes called babytalk) is an indicator as well as a concern. Eye contact and eye tracking are powerful tools in measuring this response.

Researchers in San Diego found that children who were on the spectrum did not engage with videos containing that sort of talking nearly as much as those who had not been diagnosed. Since “mother-ese” has been found to stimulate learning and development of critical social skills, a lack of interest  problematic. It could also help professionals diagnose ASD as early as one or two years old.

A pediatrician could be the first resource to do the initial screen, then a child should be evaluated by someone specially trained in diagnosing autism since elements of the diagnosis include tests, interviews with those who know the child best and lots of observation under different scenarios. From there, therapies that range from technological tools to service animals can be considered to help a child engage with their environment more successfully.

Researchers are trying to understand how ASD is altering the brain early in life. To understand the causes of ASD, brain donations are essential to advance research. Having access to the brain tissue from individuals with ASD can help researchers learn how ASD and other developmental disorders can be prevented, diagnosed, and treated early in life.


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