As part of autism awareness month, the Institute for Disability Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi will hold a “Screening for Autism Day” in several cities throughout the State.
To ensure that children in Mississippi have access to early screening, the Institute for Disability Studies will conduct screening for children ages 5 years and under in the following cities: Tupelo, Jackson, Greenville, Hattiesburg, and Long Beach from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on April 29. Information on children who fail the autism screen will be provided to the child’s pediatrician. Resources and referrals to agencies such as First Steps and the public schools will be provided to parents.
As Dr. Jane Siders, co-director of the Institute points out, “the incidence of autism continues to rise in our country.” The latest numbers from the Center for Disease Control indicate that 1 in 68 children are identified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Although autism is diagnosed in both males and females and across all races, boys are five times more likely to be identified as girls and white children are identified at a higher rate than black or Hispanic children.
“Autism is a neurological disorder that results in complex and often perplexing symptoms. Children on the spectrum are affected in different ways and display different levels of severity from mild to severe” said Siders.
Intellectual ability varies, but about half of all children identified with ASD have average to above average intelligence. Symptoms that are common across all levels of ASD include poor social interaction, highly focused interests and/or repetitive behaviors, and difficulty communicating with others.
Some children may not use speech. Children with speech often repeat the same phrases over and over or they may copy what other people say. Children with ASD have difficulty using speech to indicate their needs, wants and/or emotions. “Even from a very early age, we find that the normal back and forth communication between an infant and caregiver is missing” said Siders.
Socially, children’s eye contact with another person during communication or play can range from avoiding to fleeting. Children’s behavior may range from passive and withdrawn to overly active with seemingly no real purpose. Children may be obsessed with certain objects such as trains or trucks; become upset with even the smallest change in routine; flap their hands, rock or spin; and have unusual reactions to the way things smell, feel, taste or sound.
“Because early intervention can be very effective in treating ASD, it is important that we identify children early in life” said Dr. Alicia Westbrook, an early intervention specialist with the Institute. The first three years of life are the most important for intervention. Yet, the average age for identification is 4. We can do better. Children with autism can be identified as young as two, with some symptoms occurring earlier than that.”
The first step in the identification process is screening. A screen is a short test to tell if children are on track with their development. It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that all children be screened for developmental delays at their 9, 18, 24 or 30 month well-baby visits. Children should be specifically screened for autism at 18 and 24 months.
Children who show problems on a developmental or autism screen are referred for a comprehensive evaluation or diagnosis. A team of professionals, including a physician or child psychiatrist who is specifically trained to identify autism, should be available along with other team members to conduct a diagnostic evaluation.
According to Dr. Beth Felder, physician on the IDS diagnostic team, “A medical doctor will be able to rule out other medical disorders or check for genetic or neurological problems that might co-exist with ASD. An M.D. or D.O. can also determine if medication is a viable option and explain to parents the types of medical interventions and diets that are most commonly referred to in the literature about ASD.”
For more information you can go to the Institute’s website www.usm.edu/disability-studies or call 601-266-5030.