The symptoms of autism tend to emerge in children after six months of age, with a loss of social and communications skills. However, according to a new study, these changes may be both more common and more subtle than previously thought. Here are the details from an article in MedPage Today:
At six months, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrated behavior similar to other children, gazing at faces, sharing smiles, and vocalizing with similar frequency, researchers reported online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
However, autistic children displayed fewer of these behaviors as as they got older, and from six months to 18 months the loss of social communication and skills typically became clear.
While doctors typically caught early signs of autism, the declines were more subtle than previously suggested and most parents (83%) did not report regression in the social behaviors and skills.
These findings have lead the researchers to two major conclusions:
- First, the behavioral symptoms of autism spectrum disorder appear to emerge over time, beginning in the second half of the first year of life and continuing to develop for several years.
- Second, our most widely used and recommended practice for gathering information about symptom onset, parent-provided developmental history, does not provide a valid assessment of the slow decline in social communication that can be observed prospectively.
The bottom line is this: autism may progress more slowly and subtly than previously thought and parents often miss regressive symptoms of autism in their children.
MedPate Today explains:
Autism is thought to emerge in two ways: an early onset pattern and a regressive pattern.
A majority of autistic children are thought to experience the early onset pattern, showing clear signs of the disease in the second year of life but in some cases showing signs before the first birthday.
Those with the regressive pattern are thought to develop normally for the first year of life, then begin losing communications and social skills.
However, most previous studies have been retrospective in design, and some children don’t appear to fit either of the typical patterns, bringing into question the validity of this two-pronged model of onset.
More recently, a third category has been suggested, in which children develop normally and then seem to hit a developmental plateau, but not regress.
What does this mean for doctors and parents? First of all, early diagnosis of autism and ASD is incredibly beneficial. Simply put, it leads to early treatment which is enormously helpful to the child and the family.
Therefore, more than ever, parents and physicians who care for young children will have to carefully address developmental and social milestones in each child at each visit. If there are ANY concerns in the eyes of the parent or the physician, a careful evaluation (a second opinion) by a specialist in child behavior and development would be indicated. And, the earlier, the better.
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