Parenting a Child with Autism

Autism can be defined as a distinctive set of characteristics including: difficulty with social
interactions, trouble with verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors and narrow,
obsessive interests. Children with autism may also have intellectual disabilities and behavioral
challenges. Approximately 1 in 50 children are diagnosed with autism, and autism is more than
four times as common in boys as in girls.

Despite what you may have heard, vaccines do not cause autism. In fact, the authors of the
original 1998 study retracted their assertion that there was any link between the measles, mumps and
rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism.

What causes autism?

The exact cause of autism is not known, but research has uncovered several possible factors,
including genetics, metabolic or neurological factors, certain types of infections and problems
occurring at birth. Studies of people with autism have found abnormalities in several regions of
the brain, which suggest that autism results from a disruption of early brain development while
still developing in the mother’s womb. Environmental factors such as exposure to pesticides,
chemicals in household products and viruses may also have some causal effect.

Symptoms of autism

Symptoms of autism typically appear before a child is 3 years old and last throughout life.
Autistic children can display a wide range of symptoms, which can vary in severity from mild to
disabling. General symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with verbal communication, including problems using and understanding language
  • Inability to participate in a conversation, even when the child has the ability to speak
  • Difficulty with non-verbal communication, such as gestures and facial expressions
  • Difficulty with social interaction, including relating to people and to his/her surroundings
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Preferring to play alone
  • Unusual ways of playing with toys and other objects, such as only lining them up a certain way
  • Difficulty adjusting to changes in routine or familiar surroundings, or an unreasonable insistence on following routines in detail
  • Repetitive body movements or patterns of behavior, such as hand flapping, spinning and head banging
  • Preoccupation with unusual objects or parts of objects

If you think your child may have autism, come in and see us

If you’re concerned about any of these symptoms, or your child has exhibited signs of autism, please make an appointment with one of us at Westchester Health Pediatrics. He/she can use a standardized screening tool to determine if your child has autism or is at risk for autism.

While there is no cure for autism, early intervention can make a big difference in a child’s life.

Behavioral therapies can help kids with autism develop social and language skills; speech, physical or occupational therapy can increase their functional abilities; special education is structured to meet their unique educational needs; and medications can treat impulsive behavior and hyperactivity.

We’re here to help

If you haven’t recognized any of these symptoms but are still concerned that your child may have autism, contact your pediatrician. Remember, even the healthiest children can be shy and remote at times. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we have years of experience in this area and can advise you as to the best course of action for you and your child.