You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

The New Statistics on Autism…What Do They Mean?


Autism in in the news again with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting this week that rates climbed by 30% from 2008 to 2010. With statistics like this, how can a parent not look at his child and begin to worry? There will be much written about this study….many potential reasons for the statistical increase will be discussed. The point I think parents need to remember is that Autism Spectrum Disorder needs to be diagnosed early, and many times parents are the best identifier.

The CDC can’t explain the reason for the rise. Coleen Boyle director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities stated “It may be that we’re getting better at identifying autism…We do feel like some of this has to do with how children are identified, diagnosed, and served in their communities.” It seems some communities may diagnose children on the autism spectrum more carefully. In Alabama, 1 in 175 children were diagnosed on the spectrum in 2010. This is compared to 1 in 45 in New Jersey. What does that mean? Are more children in New Jersey on the spectrum or are fewer children in Alabama diagnosed? About half of the children diagnosed on the autism spectrum in 2010 were average or above average in intelligence compared to just a third in 2002. Marshalyn Yergin Allsopp chief of CDC’s developmental disabilities branch points out that we now recognize that autism is actually a spectrum, she states, “Our understanding has evolved to the point that we understand that there are children with higher IQ’s who may not have been receiving services in the past.” Some experts are worried that this new report is not describing the same autism that was diagnosed 20 years ago. Could that be one of the reasons we are seeing such an increase?  Some trends have remained the same since the CDC began collecting data on autism over the last decade. Little boys are diagnosed five times more often than little girls and white children are more likely to be diagnosed than black or Hispanic children. Again we ask, why?

So what does this mean for parents….how can we read these statistic and not react with worry and concern? The truth is, we probably will be a bit more concerned and aware, and that is not wrong, but we must not let worry take over. Just as with any potential disease, worry will not change whether our children become ill or not. Being aware may help with early detection and intervention which is always the key.

Early detection of autism or any developmental delay is important so that a child can receive help early.  Early detection and intervention makes a huge difference for children!  Your child’s doctor should be looking at your child’s growth and development at each well child check.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child’s physician screen for developmental delays or early signs of autism at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 to 30 months.  Parents too can look for red flags that may need to be discussed with their child’s doctor.

Red Flags

Age 2 to 3 months

  • Your baby does not make good eye contact with you.Age 3 months
  • Your baby does not smile at you.Age 6 months
  • Your baby does not laugh.Age 9 months
  • Your baby is not babbling or making consonant sounds.Age 12 months
  • Your baby does not turn to you when you call his or her name.
  • Your baby does not wave bye-bye with encouragement.Age 12 to 14 months
  • Your baby does not have any words.Age 14 months
  • Your baby does not point at things.Age 18 months
  • Your baby does not pretend.
  • Your baby has less than 5 words.Don’t panic if you do not see one of these milestones, many times with encouragement or by providing increased opportunity children reach the milestone.  However, a conversation with your child’s doctor is important.  Because you are a parent, you know your child best!  If you have concerns, be sure that you insist that you have time to discuss them with your child’s doctor.  Every state has an early intervention program that can assess if a child has a developmental delay from birth to age 3.  These programs are free and referrals can be made by a health care professional or by a parent.  Indiana’s early intervention program is First Steps.  Any parent can access their states early intervention program by calling The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities at 1-800-695-0285.  This center can give you your state’s early intervention program’s contact information.If your child is age 3 or older and you have concerns, the public school system will complete the evaluation.  Contact your local elementary school or school board and they will give you the information needed to obtain developmental screening for your child.Most importantly, if you are concerned about your child’s development, don’t wait!  The earlier your child gets help, the more successful it is!  If your doctor doesn’t take you seriously, get another opinion. You are the parent, you are your child’s advocate!  Again, this study doesn’t give us any answers, only numbers.  The benefit of this study to you is simply to increase your awareness and encourage you to advocate for your child if you have concerns.  Worry solves nothing….

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.


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