Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 110 children in the United States have ASD. ASDs occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but are 4 to 5 times more likely in boys than in girls. Studies have shown that about one-third of parents of children with an ASD noticed a problem before their child’s first birthday and 80 percent saw problems by age 24 months.

“Routine screening that includes parents and health care professionals discussing a child’s progress in meeting developmental milestones is key in identifying delays early,” Tomcheck said.

Diagnosing ASDs can be difficult because there is no medical test, like a blood test, that can be used to diagnose them, Tomchek said. Instead, clinicians assess a child’s behavior and development to determine if he or she falls into the spectrum of autism disorders. The ULAC team works specifically in the early detection of autism and provides evaluations and a full course of interventions and treatment options, including medical, psychiatric and family services.

We know more about ASDs today than ever before, Tomchek said, and many successful interventions and treatments are available. Interventions that are most effective come from behavioral and educational frameworks and concentrate on changing certain behaviors and/or teaching new skills.

A treatment plan should be individualized – there is no “cookbook” – and the family is a vital component of any treatment plan, he added. Interventions should be highly structured, but the intensity of treatment will vary per child. Early intervention is essential to help children from birth to 3 years old learn important skills. Services likely will include therapy to help the child communicate, interact with others and follow daily routines.

If you are concerned about the way your child plays, learns, speaks or acts, contact the ULP Autism Center at Kosair Charities at 502.852.1300

People with ASD might:

• avoid eye contact

• have trouble understanding other people’s feelings

• have trouble talking about their own feelings

• have delayed speech and language skills

• repeat words or phrases

• give unrelated answers to questions

• get upset by minor changes

• have obsessive interests

• flap their hands or rock their body

• have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel

ASD Symptoms in babies may include developmental delays such as:

• not responding to their name by 12 months

• not pointing at objects to show interest by 14 months

• not playing “pretend” games

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health from the “ULP Insider” newsletter. Read the entire April issue (opens as a PDF document).