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Renowned Autism Expert Catherine Lord, PhD, Answers Questions for Parents

Why should parents bring their child with autism to the NYU Child Study Center? The NYU Child Study Center is one of the nation’s premier centers for treatment of child and adolescent psychiatric and learning disorders including autism. The Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Service at the NYU Child Study Center is dedicated to the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Our unique team approach allows for tailored and individualized recommendations. Our services specialize in the comprehensive evaluation and early identification of social difficulties in children as young as 18 months. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) affects 1 in 150 children. These are developmental disorders that hinder a child’s ability to socially interact, communicate and play. Research tells us that early identification, parent-training, and intensive educational intervention can greatly improve children’s lives, giving them the best chance to achieve their full potential.

What are the signs of autism that parents should look for?

There are several indications that may help identify children and infants who may be at risk for autism: lack of a social smile, poor social interactions, preference for aloneness, lack of appropriate gestures such as pointing and showing objects, minimal or nonexistent imaginative play and the need for sameness. In addition, delays in language development should never be neglected. Any of these concerns should prompt a parent to request an evaluation.

Why does is seem like more children are being diagnosed with autism today than in the past—is it an epidemic?

Many scientists feel strongly that there isn’t an increase in prevalence — that what is reported as more cases, predominantly in school systems, can be attributed to better identification and a broader definition of autism. However, there are clearly more kids and adults identified with ASD; these are not just people who are a little bit unusual, but children and adults who need services. From that point of view, the larger numbers are very real, and we need information about them.

Is there anything parents can do to help prevent children from developing autism?

In most cases we do not know what causes autism. We do know that there is a strong genetic component and that psychological factors are not a cause. A small number of cases have an underlying medical disorder such as tuberous sclerosis or Fragile X. There have been some excellent studies that clearly indicate autism is not caused by vaccinations such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine or by thimersol (a mercury preservative) that has been used in the past as a preservative in vaccinations. There is also no evidence that other environmental issues such as food allergies can cause or trigger the onset of autism.

What can parents and teachers do to help children with autism succeed in school?

It is important to identify children with autism as early as possible and provide them with a specialized education program. There are special schools and programs within the public education sector. One of the most important aims of these programs for young children is to help increase interest in other people. Next is an emphasis on learning language, and finally the use of functional assessments and treatments of behaviors.

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