Autism directly affects 1 in 68 children including 1 in 42 boys. More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people.
ASDs are “spectrum disorders.” That means ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.
Learn more about autism
The National Institute of Mental Health states that symptoms of autism spectrum disorder vary from one child to the next, but all demonstrate deficits in three areas:
- Social interaction
- Verbal and nonverbal communication
- Repetitive behaviors or interests
Each of these symptoms runs the gamut from mild to severe. They will present in each individual child differently. For instance, a child may have little trouble learning to read but exhibit extremely poor social interaction. Each child will display communication, social, and behavioral patterns that are individual but fit into the overall diagnosis of ASD.
The following warning signs or “red flags” should be considered as indicators for investigating the possibility of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and does not mean a child has an ASD. That requires a diagnostic process from a team of professionals.
6-12 Month Markers:
- Infrequent eye contact
- Failure to orient to name
- Does not smile in response to smiles from others
- Social and emotional passivity
- Fixation on objects
By 12 Months:
- Poor or no eye contact
- Failure to orient to name
- Poor imitation
- No babbling by 12 months
- No gesturing by 12 months
By 16 Months:
- No single words by 16 months
- No pointing to objects or events of interest in an effort to share
By 24 Months:
- No spontaneous two-word phrases
- Loss of any language or social skills at any age
Learn more about identifying ASD:
Autism spectrum disorder is the single fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States affecting one in 68 children including one in 42 boys.
Due to this growing epidemic that affects more children than childhood cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined, it is important to diagnose and begin behavioral intervention as early as possible.
Please feel free to download our Autism Early Detection Kit below.
Are you worried that a child you know may have autism?
If your child or family member is between the ages of 18-24 months and you suspect they may have autism, please view the M-CHAT and M-CHAT Scoring Guides below. Several screening instruments have been developed to quickly gather information about a child’s social and communicative development within medical settings and at home.
If the child fails the M-CHAT, and you live in the United States, then make a special education referral to the Early Intervention program at the school district in which the child lives. You should also take the results of the M-CHAT to the child’s pediatrician for a referral for a full assessment to a multi-disciplinary team at a Children’s Hospital or an autism unit at a university near you.
If the child DOES NOT fail the M-CHAT, re-administer the M-CHAT every 45 days or so as part of a periodic surveillance program.
If your child or family member is older than 24 months and you suspect they may have autism then complete the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) at:
- Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) for older children
An important caveat: Screening instruments are not tests or diagnostic instruments. They are used to guide and inform individuals as to the potential risk for autism. If there is any doubt regarding this risk, follow through with a formal diagnostic process with health care professionals expert in the area of autism spectrum disorders.
There is no cure for autism; however, there are autism intervention plans that can be tailored to address the unique needs of each individual with autism.
Research shows that intensive behavioral therapy can significantly improve cognitive and language skills. Early intensive behavioral intervention should involve a child’s whole family while working with a team of professionals. Some programs include therapists coming to the home and providing services, including having the parent leading a therapy session. Other programs include having therapy sessions in a specialized center, classroom or preschool.
As a child develops and acquires social and learning skills, different interventions and supports become applicable. For instance, when children enter school, targeted social skills programs and specialized approaches to teaching may be beneficial to the autistic child. (Learn more about our Social Skills Camp Scholarship Program and iPad Program).
Early Intervention Therapies
A widely accepted treatment for ASD is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). The goals in this treatment are to reduce unfavorable behaviors and shape and reinforce new behaviors, such as learning to speak and play. ABA can involve intensive, one-on-one child-teacher interaction for up to 40 hours a week. This intensive treatment has inspired the development of other interventions that aim to help those with ASD reach their full potential. ABA-based interventions include:
- Verbal Behavior: focusing on teaching language by guiding children from simple verbal behaviors to more functional communication skills.
- Pivotal Response Training: identifies pivotal skills that affect a broad range of improvements in communication, social, and behavioral domains.
Other types of early interventions include:
- Developmental, Individual, Relationship-based (DIR)/Floortime Model: aims at building healthy foundations for social, emotional, and intellectual capabilities rather than on skills and isolated behaviors.
- TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped Children): emphasizes visual learning in a classroom with schedules and defined areas clearly marked with pictures and words to help autistic children identify activities independently.
- Interpersonal Synchrony: targets social development and imitation skills, and focuses on teaching children how to make frequent and intentional efforts to engage others in communication or play.
While no single treatment works for all individuals with ASD, there are common features of effective early intervention programs. The American Academy of Pediatrics provided a list of these common features:
- Starting as soon as a child has been diagnosed with ASD
- Providing focused and challenging learning activities at the proper developmental level for the child for at least 25 hours per week and 122 months per year
- Having small classes to allow each child to have one-on-one time with the therapist or teacher and small group learning activities
- Having special training for parents and family
- Encouraging activities that include typically developing children, as long as such activities help meet a specific need
- Measuring and recording each child’s progress and adjusting the intervention program as needed
- Providing a high degree of structure, routine, and visual cues, such as posted activity schedules and clearly defined boundaries, to reduce distractions
- Guiding the child in adapting learned skills to new situations and settings and maintaining learned skills
- Using a curriculum that focuses on
- Language and communication
- Social skills, such as joint attention (looking at other people to draw attention to something interesting and share in experiencing it)
- Self-help and daily living skills, such as dressing and grooming
- Research-based methods to reduce challenging behaviors, such as aggression and tantrums
- Cognitive skills, such as pretend play or seeing someone else’s point of view
- Typical school-readiness skills, such as letter recognition and counting
Information in this section is based on source material drawn from:
National Institute of Mental Health. A Parents Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2012. <https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/autism-spectrum-disorder/index.shtml>.
It is extremely important for emergency personnel to understand autism and the types of behaviors that individuals might display in emergency situations.
With the proper knowledge and training, dispatched officers will be able to provide the best and most effective response to ensure the safety of individuals with autism.
Resources for Emergency Personnel