HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - Autism is not just one disorder, identified in one way. It is a wide spectrum that can be difficult to recognize and diagnose.
For Autism Awareness Month, we spoke with Dr. Dannell Roberts, program director and co-owner of Will’s Way Behavioral Psychology, who told us what to look for and how parents can help children with autism.
Roberts said there are several symptoms, treatments and ways to adapt.
“Autism is considered a neurobehavioral disorder,” Roberts said. “It affects reciprocal social communication, it affects nonverbal communication, it includes the restriction repetitive behaviors.”
Roberts said that you should pay close attention to your child’s development, making sure they are reaching expected milestones.
“Some of the early signs of autism include a delay in language, this could be very few words by their first birthday,” Roberts said. “Usually, children by 15-18 months have several words and short phrases. By two years of age, sentences. So, if your child is not experiencing those within those milestones, this could be an indication.”
There are also physical behaviors that you should look for as well. If a child has trouble sitting still, for example.
“The other part that you are looking for are restricted, repetitive behaviors,” Roberts said. “This could include physical repetitions, motor movements such as hand flapping, rocking, spinning. It also can include very, very restricted interest in things and difficulty with changes in routine and transitions.”
Since the autism spectrum is large, all symptoms are not as noticeable, and all diagnoses are not the same.
“It varies on how it affects a person’s life because it is a very wide spectrum,” Roberts said. “You have individuals with very mild symptoms that do not interfere with day-to-day functioning. All the way to individuals who have significant delays in communication, cognitive skills and self-help skills.”
If your child with autism is struggling with communication skills, Roberts has a few suggestions that might help their development.
“We encourage families to saturate their children with language reading books, labeling items, pointing to items, having the children point to items,” Roberts said. “Really encouraging language when possible, so trying to encourage children to use the words that they may have. Children on the autism spectrum tend to prefer structure and predictability, whether that be bath time or bedtime or mealtime. And try to make those as structured and predictable as possible.”
Lastly, the doctor stressed that waiting to get an evaluation is not a good idea
“Please do not wait,” Roberts said. “If you have concerns as a parent that your child is not meeting those milestones, speak to your pediatrician.”