What is autism and how to recgonize warning signs: The Conversation

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) - Sesame Street made news last month when it announced it would debut its newest muppet, Julia. She’s autistic and the goal is to increase understanding and acceptance of children with autism.

The latest numbers show one in 68 kids are on the autism spectrum.

Researchers don't know what causes autism, but they believe it may be environmental. Studies have shown that the risk is higher in children of older parents.

On The Conversation, Carrie Lazarus sits down with Dr. Kevin Antshel, a clinical psychologist at SUNY Upstate and SU.

“25 years ago when I was in graduate school, there wasn't even a class on autism in my PhD program. Now, in our PhD program, we have entire semesters about autism,” Antshel said. 

Signs of autism can manifest as young as six months old.

Antshel says some red flags may be that parents think their child is deaf— that they would call the child’s name of come into a room and make noise and the child would not orient to that direction.

He also says babies typically crave eye contact and the face, and children with autism, or those at risk, don’t engage in eye contact.

The last early risk factor is communication, so late speech or speech that isn’t existent at all could potentially be signs. Communication tends to be repetitive.

According to Antshel, the likelihood of seeing signs that a child is going to be autistic in the first year of life depends on the severity.

“For the more severe cases of autism, I think it is possibly likely they're going to see some warning signs. For the less significantly affected, those usually come about the second year of life,” he said.

For the second year, Antshel says, “the kid that doesn't engage in any kind of reciprocal interaction back and forth. Make-believe play is absent in year two, which we know when typically developing kids begins in year two. And a kid that just doesn't have interest in other children so they go to some kind of daycare and the kid with autism just sits in the corner and plays by himself has no interest in the other kids.”

Antshel says it’s incredibly important to spot the signs early and intervene.

“Having a provider in the home for upwards of 20 to 30 hours a week on working with the parents and also working with the child is associated with much better outcomes,” the doctor said.

For more on autism and what red flags to look for, click here.

Click the player above to see Carrie’s full Conversation.

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