From the December 2019 issue

Early Autism Diagnosis: What You Should Know

It's one of the main factors in getting the best results for any child on the autism spectrum. But how do you ensure a child gets the right testing? Who should be evaluating them and how early? The experts at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center in Novi offer help in getting started.

Mom kissing daughter on the cheek

Perhaps your child hasn’t started crawling or walking by the age your pediatrician recommended. As a parent observing your child, you might worry that your child may not be communicating as developmentally appropriate. Do they appear to have little interest in playing with others? Are these signs something to be concerned about?

If a developmental delay is suspected, where does a parent begin? The Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center‘s team has some suggestions.

“Early diagnosis is key, because we know that with young children their brain develops very rapidly,” Dawn Montroy, clinical director and BCBA at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center in Novi, says.

From infancy to toddlerhood, that’s when optimal learning happens.

“When a child has a diagnosis of autism, they are not making the same connections that a typically developing child would.” she says “So while they are capable of absorbing just as much learning and growth, children on the autism spectrum access learning in a different way and, if we aren’t providing that therapeutic intervention in a way that they can access early enough, that could result in a delay in their skill acquisition and their progress.”

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If you’re concerned your child could have autism, read on for more about getting a diagnosis and treatment.

Signs of autism

Eye contact and big smiles at mom and dad around 6 months old are common, but if your child isn’t doing either, it could be a cause for concern. By age 2, if a child is still babbling and unable to put two-word phrases together, this could also be a red flag. These two-word phrases could be as simple as “more milk” or “want mama,” she notes.

Talking to your child’s pediatrician is the first step to getting clarity, and Montroy suggests parents trust their gut instinct if they think milestones are delayed.

Getting a diagnosis

“A few years ago, no one was really being diagnosed until age 4 or 5 when they were about to enter school and things just weren’t progressing the way that they should,” she says.

Today, however, kids are being diagnosed with autism as young as 16 or 18 months old. This begins with a doctor’s visit.

“Generally, pediatricians are on top of this and discuss developmental milestones at annual appointments, but sometimes, especially if this a firstborn child, parents don’t realize that there’s any developmental milestone missing,” Montroy explains, “because they are not seeing other children and having that comparison of seeing someone is walking or talking already but their child is not.”

Discussing developmental milestones at each pediatrician’s visit can help parents understand what their child should be doing.

And if they’re not? Request further evaluation, which includes speech and language, occupational therapy and an autism evaluation known as the autism diagnostic observation schedule or ADOS. A licensed psychologist performs the ADOS, which is a thorough evaluation to see if the child meets the medical criteria for an autism diagnosis.

“Once you have that diagnosis, then the parents have to find an agency that provides the therapies that are recommended in that diagnostic report,” Montroy says.

And that’s where the team at Blossom comes in.

“Our focus is to help families access the therapies they need once they have the diagnosis,” she says.

Treatment plan

Every child with autism presents differently, which is why an individualized plan is the best way to ensure success.

When a child first comes to Blossom, the team does a skills-based assessment, which includes speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and ABA.

From there, the Blossom team comes up with a plan, which is done in 12-week intervals. The team consistently reevaluates the plan and goals for each individual child and family.

“Sometimes kids come to us and they are a year and a half to two years behind where they should be, so that’s where we start,” she says. “Our team meets the child where they are at, and strives to teach the child any skills needed to ensure they can progress and ultimately exit our program.”

Blossom’s goal is to ensure each child reaches his or her maximum potential.

“We want to be able to give anyone that comes to us, with their participation, the skills and comprehensive supports they need; so they can feel the confidence to help their children blossom successfully in the world.”

For more information on the services offered at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center in Novi, visit blossombehavioral.org.

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