Renowned autism expert Dr. Catherine Lord is the Director of NYP’s Center for Autism and the Developing Brain (CADB). Opening in early 2013, CADB will be the region’s most comprehensive center for diagnosing and treating patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Dr. Lord shared some of her insights on identifying children with ASD and how to begin the process of getting the right services.
Q – A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has termed Autism Spectrum Disorders a national public health crisis, noting that one out of 88 American children is diagnosed with the developmental disability. What early signs and symptoms should parents look for in their child?
A – Most children with ASD will not develop signs until after their first birthday. Between 12 and 15 months, a child may act differently from other children but a parent may not recognize it as ASD related. Some red flags in a child’s behavior may include not wanting to be held or cuddled, staying in the crib, not responding to his or her name, staring, and not following objects visually. As the child gets older, these behaviors will become more pronounced.
Q – When does it become readily apparent that the child may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder?
A – Generally, ASD symptoms are apparent after the age of two. Symptoms typically revolve around impaired social skills, speech and language difficulties, nonverbal communication difficulties, and inflexible behavior. What separates a child who is developing normally from one with ASD is the ability to integrate language with social interaction. Signs of ASD include the inability to vocalize, socialize, and play in organized ways; very delayed language; and repetitive actions and body movements.
Q – What should a parent do when she thinks her child might have ASD?
A – As a first step, concerned parents should consult with the child’s pediatrician. If the pediatrician suggests the child be evaluated, parents should ask for a recommendation for a psychologist specializing in ASD evaluations. During an ASD evaluation, the psychologist will administer standardized diagnostic and developmental assessment instruments, including interviewing the parents and child, and testing the child. The evaluation is not invasive, nor does it cause pain or discomfort to the child.
Q – When it opens, what services will the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain provide?
A – Our center will offer comprehensive care to patients of all ages with ASD and other developmental disorders of the brain, including a full array of evaluative, diagnostic, and multi-disciplinary services. In addition, we will provide “gap” services to aid families in planning for future treatment and community-based care, and consultative services to agencies in the area. Our research will focus on the effectiveness of supports provided to people living with ASD in the community.
Q – What words of encouragement do you offer to parents of a child who has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder?
A – Although scientists are still exploring the causes of autism, the earlier ASD is diagnosed and intervention begins, the greater the impact will be in reducing the disorder’s effects so the child can learn, grow, and thrive. We will be here to guide, assist, and support parents and their families to improve the lives of their children with ASD.
Nationally renowned expert Dr. Lord is the Director of NYP’s Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. A clinical psychologist, she co-developed some of the key diagnostic tools to help clinicians recognize autism in individuals of varying ages, and chaired the National Research Council’s Committee on the Effectiveness of Early Intervention in Autism. She also is a member of the DSM5 Neurodevelopmental Disorders Committee.