Learn the early signs of late development in your child

OKEECHOBEE – It’s devastating to hear that your child isn’t developing as expected. Well-meaning family, friends and even your pediatrician will say things like, “She’s not even 2 yet; she’ll catch up,” and, “He’s not talking because you baby him too much” or “Let’s just wait and see where he is developmentally in six months.” Many parents or caregivers share that they knew something wasn’t right, but hesitate to get their child screened because they want to believe what they are told by the people they trust.

What are the early signs for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? The newest research is helping us identify children at risk for ASD as early as 18 months of age. The signs can be very subtle at first, but because of the brain-based perceptual deficits associated with autism, as the child gets older, their learning gaps may increase and challenging behaviors begin to get in the way of routine family activities and the ability to absorb new information.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children receive autism-specific screening at 18 and 24 months of age in addition to general developmental screenings. The screening that most pediatricians administer is called the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised with Follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F). This screening tool asks the parent a series of questions about their child’s behavior. It’s available free and online for families who have a child between the ages of 16 and 30 months at M-CHAT.org. Failing the screening does not necessarily mean your child has autism. It just means that you may need further testing.

Another amazing resource for families that want to learn more about the very early signs of autism is AutismNavigator.com. Their course called “About Autism in Toddlers” offers deeper insights by comparing side-by-side videos of children showing early “red flags” and toddlers of the same age that are developing typically. Their First Words Project also offers a free online screener for children between 9 and 18 months of age.

Here are a few of the “red flags” for autism:

Social communication
• Limited use of gestures such as giving, showing, waving, clapping, pointing or nodding their head (for specifics, Google: First Words Project and click 16 by 16).
• Delayed speech or no social babbling/chatting.

Social interaction
• Does not respond when someone calls their name.
• Does not draw your attention to things by pointing or show you things they’re interested in.

Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests
• Unusual ways of moving their hands, fingers or whole body.
• Develops rituals such as lining objects up or repeating things over and over.

If your child fails a screening or you would like to have the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) meet with you to screen your child face to face, you should contact your FAU CARD clinical specialist directly. Autism sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be. The earlier a child is identified and given solid interventions, the better their developmental and life outcomes. FAU CARD can assist families in finding resources that offer the greatest impact and will also guide and support them on their autism journey. In addition to utilizing your FAU CARD clinical specialist, FAU CARD is also bringing its Little Owls Program to Okeechobee County. Little Owls is like Autism 101 for families who have a child 5 or younger and has an autism diagnosis, suspects autism or just wants to learn more about autism spectrum disorders. Little Owls-Okeechobee is a three-day event that will take place at the Okeechobee County Library on May 2, 9 and 16. It will be led by Wanda Baldwin, an early intervention specialist from FAU CARD. Please let your FAU CARD clinician (information below) know your interest in attending.

Each week during the month of April, we’ll share information about autism and intervention options for children, teens and adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

Rosie Portera is the clinical specialist who serves Okeechobee County for Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. FAU CARD is a community-based program providing assistance and support to people with autism spectrum disorder and related disabilities, their families, the professionals serving them and the community. All services are free. For more information, contact: Rosie Portera at: r.portera.vaughn@fau.edu or 772-873-3422.

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