Autism Awareness

We at PIPH wanted to give some information and resources to our followers about what autism is and where to find help if you are concerned. Also, if someone in your family is diagnosed with autism or has further interest, I invite you to follow a podcast, “Thriving Special Families”, where we at PIPH are doing a 4 part series on autism from an integrative perspective with Crystal Sanford of Sanford Autism Consulting. See the introductory podcast here: https://fb.me/e/3Bb9bM02s .

What it is: Autism is a condition involving poor or improper development in the areas of language and social interaction, along with some types of repetitive behaviors. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a guide used to diagnose mental disorders, people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have:

  • Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors
  • Symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life

This website at the National Institute of Mental Health has great resources and information to start you on a journey to find much more information. (NIMH » Autism Spectrum Disorder)

The CDC also has a comprehensive site dedicated to those who are interested in ASD which has extensive information, resources, and tools for parents, practitioners, schools, and other support services.  https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

There are criteria to meet the definition of autism that get a little complex, so the diagnosis really needs to be confirmed by specialists performing developmental testing. Most pediatric practitioners can get a good sense of the diagnosis by following a child’s developmental milestones, surveying them over time, and some observations in the office. Parents can also follow their child’s expected development with some of the tools from the sites above or from information from their pediatric provider. There is no medical test, such as a blood or urine test, which can be done to make the diagnosis of autism. The severity of this developmental disorder is expansive, from very severe children to high and almost normal functioning individuals. That is why it is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder. The last AAP estimates from 2020 state that 1 in 54 children have ASD, which is almost 2 percent of the pediatric population, but this varies depending on where you live. It is also about four times more common in boys than girls.

Why it is: There is no known specific cause for autism. We do know some risk factors that may warrant extra screening for ASD as a child develops. These include having a family member with autism, older parents, very low birth weight, and some genetic conditions. We know there is some contribution from genes, as autism runs in families, but no one gene or even a family of genes have been implicated. It seems more likely that genetics may set up some susceptibility that is triggered by other things in the child’s environment. Either way, we don’t have clear answers yet, though hundreds, if not thousands, of people are doing research in this area every day. Vaccines do not cause autism, but some diseases may mimic some of the symptoms, such as hearing loss, some genetic disorders, heavy metal toxicity, or severe food sensitivities. Therefore, some studies may be recommended if ASD is suspected. 

When does it appear: Autism probably starts while a baby is in the womb with brain changes that can’t be recognized until the baby is supposed to be talking and responding to its environment. The typical signs of autism don’t show up until a child is 12 to 24 months or more, and unfortunately, most children aren’t diagnosed until they are 3 – 4 years old. Pediatricians have been tasked with diagnosing it as soon as possible because early intervention is key to getting the best potential results. There are screening tests for young children that can begin as early as 12 months of age to see if there are any evolving concerns about the areas of development that could lead to the potential diagnosis. Your child should be screened several times before the age of 2 years by your primary pediatric provider. 

What can we do: Once diagnosed, a child should receive types of therapy which will give extra stimulation to the areas of delayed development. This often includes speech therapy, occupational therapy, and possibly ABA. Many autistic children have trouble with areas of behavior that may respond to psychological therapy, medications, or even herbs and diet changes. Overall, autistic children are unique and remarkable people. Some of them have special, extraordinary gifts. They are often very sensitive to their surroundings, including sounds/vibrations, tastes, smells, textures, medications, and foods. They seem to have trouble regulating or sorting out a lot of stimulation at once, which another “normal” person may not even be aware of. In my experience, I find them very caring and loving individuals. We at PIPH welcome the opportunity to serve this special population of children.

If you’d like to explore options for a child you know or suspect who is struggling with autism, feel free to reach out to us. Integrative pediatrics has many alternative therapies and strategies which may help autistic children to thrive to their fullest potential. 

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