Over the past 12 months we have had a rapid increase in referrals to our clinic. What is so unusual about these referrals? They are babies all under the age of 12 months! What were they referred for? The were referred because the babies showed the early signs of autism. In fact, most of the referrals have been for babies aged 6-9 months.
How do you diagnose autism in babies?
We don’t actually diagnose babies with autism. Paediatricians and other professionals use the term ‘red flags for autism’. This means that there are some early signs of autism. Research shows that early signs of autism can be detected in children between the ages of 12-18 months. In some cases, we can detect these signs in children as young as 6 months. Some children may de diagnosed with developmental delay when they show the early signs of autism.
What are the early signs of autism.
The classic signs of autism in young children are:
- Reduced response to noises and people around them
- Limited eye contact
- Not responding to their name
- Not calling out or making sounds to get your attention
- Aren’t sharing smiles with you
- Not imitating your facial expressions or actions
- Limited pointing or using other gestures such as waving to people
- Using repetitive behaviours such as hand flapping
- Using toys in an unusual and repetitive way, such as lining them up, instead of playing with them appropriately
- Obsessive interests in particular toys, books or videos
For more information about the early signs of autism, read our earlier post.
Who saw the early signs of autism in these babies?
These babies were all referred by they parents because they saw signs of autism. How did they know their baby had early signs of autism?
- The baby has an older sibling who has autism
- The family know another young child who has autism
- The parent works in a professional area and is aware of autism signs
- The parent has older children and saw that their baby did not engage in the same way as their older brothers or sisters
In most cases, the family knows someone with autism or has a child with autism themselves. When a family has a child with autism, they are looking for signs of autism. What’s more, they look for these signs at an early age. As one Mum said to me, “I’ve been through this before and I will do everything I can to make sure we start as early as possible”.
What did the GP or paediatrician say?
GP’s and paediatricians are a vital part of the autism journey. We encourage all families to maintain regular contact with their medical practitioners. I would love to say that the GP’s and paediatricians are proactive in identifying the very early signs of autism. Unfortunately, that often isn’t the case. Most families are told to go away and come back in 6 months time. Six months is a long time in a baby’s life. It is also an important window of opportunity to shape brain development if the right intervention is used. Fortunately, we work closely with 2 developmental paediatricians who refer young children when they have early signs of autism.
What intervention do you use with babies?
That’s easy! You use a modification of the Early Start Denver Model. The Early Start Denver Model, or ESDM, is a model of intervention for young children with autism. It targets the key features of autism that interfere with a child’s ability to learn, make friends and participate in the world around them. The key researcher and author of the ESDM is Sally Rogers. In 2014, she published a paper that used a modification of the ESDM in infants as young as 6 months of age. Infant Start is the name of this intervention.
Infant Start is a parent training model. The study was small but the results were promising. Each child in the study was chosen because that had an older sibling with autism, and began to show early signs of autism. After completing Infant Start, only one child in the study was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 years. The other children did not have enough symptoms of autism to get diagnosed when they turned three.
How are the children progressing in our clinic?
So far so good! Each child is improving and the signs of autism have reduced. Two children have a developmental assessment in April because they will be more than 18 months old then. The parents enjoy the therapy sessions. They like that fact they can use the strategies across the normal daily activities at home. All the parents say that they can engage and interact more with their baby. WE received another referral for a 6 month old baby yesterday, and we are looking forward to working with that family too.
Can babies access services and funding?
Babies are assessed for general development at the age 6 months of age. Some are diagnosed with developmental delay, especially if there is a delay in more than one area. Typically, the areas of communication, social skills and play are the main areas of concern if the baby shows red flags of autism. When a baby is diagnosed with a developmental delay, they may be able to access some services and funding. On of our families has submitted an NDIS access request for their 7 month old and we are very keen to see if that is successful.
What does the research say about early diagnosis?
Research shows that early identification autism leads to the best outcomes for children and their families. Early intervention leads to better language skills, cognitive skills and reduced signs of autism. Research shows that the early intervention leads to a significant cost saving as the child gets older.
What do I do if my baby has early signs of autism?
Make contact with an experienced professional who has experience with young children with autism. It should be a professional who works in the field every day. This can be a developmental paediatrician, a speech pathologist or a psychologist. We would much rather a concerned parent ring us because we understand and work with the early red flags that present in young children with autism.
La Trobe University has developed a fantastic app called ‘ASDdetect’. It is a free, evidence based app that guides parents through a series of questions about their child’s development. You can use this app for children as young as 12 months. La Trobe have provided videos to help parent understand the early features of autism. The app will provide a recommendation regarding the need for assessment.
Where can I access the ESDM for babies?
OneOnOne Children’s Therapy is located in Bondi Junction and Mascot in Sydney. We train our team of ESDM therapists to the highest levels of fidelity so we can improve children’s lives. Out Certified ESDM Therapists offer the modified ESDM for children under 12 months of age. If you want to find out more about the ESDM, then call our clinic on (02) 80657837 or email us.