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Red Flags for Autism Spectrum Disorder by Renee C. Folsom, Ph.D. Clinical Neuropsychologist
April 04, 2016 | Renee C. Folsom, Ph.D. Clinical Neuropsychologist
When people learn that I am a Pediatric Neuropsychologist, the first question is usually, "What is that?" I share with them that Pediatric Neuropsychology is a professional specialty that is concerned with learning and behavior in relationship to a child's brain, and that I usually work with children with various neurodevelopmental problems. The next question is often, "What can you say about autism?"

With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) coming up with estimates every few years indicating a sharp increase in the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), many parents are naturally concerned about their young children manifesting symptoms of this disorder. Current estimates (2014) from the CDC indicate that 1 in every 68 children in the United States have ASD. Various research groups all over the world are currently looking for genetic, biochemical, environmental, and other possible causes for this disorder; there is still no cure but research shows that early intervention is key to better outcomes.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that reflects differences in the way children develop from very early on (from infancy to toddlerhood) and that usually continue to affect development into adulthood. It is manifested in problems with social communication and interaction, and in the presence of repetitive, restricted behaviors that significantly impact a child's functioning on a day-to-day basis. The primary treatments are educational, compensatory (i.e., finding ways of remediating or going around identified weaknesses), as well as behavioral (e.g., helping individuals and their families to minimize behaviors that interfere with daily living, such as tantrums).

Autism Speaks' Ad Council published these "red flags" that may indicate risk for an autism spectrum disorder:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age
Consult with your pediatrician when you observe any of these "red flags" in your child. Your pediatrician will probably perform screening for ASD using the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT). Based on this, your pediatrician may recommend a full diagnostic assessment. Experts at Child Development Network (CDN) can see patients as young as 12-months old for a full assessment. Additionally, CDN's Center for Autism Research Education Services or CDN CARES offers social skills groups, executive function skills training, and transition planning for adolescents and young adults.

About the Author: Dr. Folsom heads the CDN CARES Program. She obtained her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Fuller School of Psychology in Pasadena, California. She completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in Clinical Neuropsychology at UCLA Semel Institute/The Help Group. Immediately before joining CDN, Dr. Folsom held an appointment on Johns Hopkins' Medical Staff and worked at Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders.

Renee C. Folsom, Ph.D. Clinical NeuropsychologistRenee C. Folsom, Ph.D. Clinical Neuropsychologist

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