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Learning the Signs of Autism: November 4, 2012

Sitting up, rolling over, crawling and walking are benchmarks in a baby's life. But so is talking. Speech is one of the first indicators that a child may have a developmental problem including autism.

“Many parents are concerned and they just don’t know where to turn. And we are here, not only to look for autism, but even some developmental delays,” says Jami Hallman, nurse practicioner with Lee Memorial Health System.

The CDC recommends an evaluation whenever a child fails to meet these milestones: babbling by 12 months, gesturing- which includes pointing or waving by 12 months, single words by 16 months and phrases by 24 months. Hallman conducts autism screenings for Lee Memorial Health System.

“It addresses concerns about language and if their child has oddities, such as not playing with toys the way that other children would play with them. For example, instead of playing with the entire car they would spin the wheels of the car and be obsessed about continuing to spin the wheels of the car. Building blocks, instead of building them up they continue to line them up in a specific order,” says Hallman.

This behavior doesn’t mean a child has autism, but it’s a red flag. Autism screenings include a checklist, completed by a parent and one-on-one time between screener and child.

“We really want to get our hands on that child and see what their reaction is with us. Many times the child may fail the questionnaire that the parent completed, but we will notice maybe it’s more of a language delay,” says Hallman.

An early diagnosis can make a world of difference. It opens the door to therapies that can improve social and communication skills.

“We can get in with the services: speech therapy, behavioral therapy, to help the child reach higher potential. Sometimes when the children come back to us, they don’t even look like same child,” says Sherri Campbell, nurse practicioner with Lee Memorial Health System.

Recognizing early signs of autism may be the key to unlocking your child’s potential.