ABC7 Special: Autism Heroes

LOS ANGELES Hosted by ABC7's Michelle Tuzee, "Autism Heroes," features families caring for children with Autism. Dr. Barbara Firestone, President/CEO and Founder of The Help Group, is donating all author royalties from sales of the book, "Autism Heroes: Portraits of Families Meeting the Challenge" which features the families who are also in our special.

Click here for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Autism answered by Dr. Barbara Firestone, President & CEO, The Help Group.

Autism Fast Facts

  • Autism spectrum disorders, commonly referred to as autism, are brain-based developmental disabilities categorized by language/communication problems, impaired social interaction, and repetitive, rigid behaviors and interests.
  • The symptoms of autism vary widely from child to child and range from mild to severe.
  • Once considered rare, autism is now estimated to affect 1 in every 150 children in the United States; every 20 minutes a child is diagnosed.
  • Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls, and occurs in children of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Symptoms can often be detected by 18 months of age or earlier. When parents first suspect the first signs of early autism may be present they should discuss these concerns with their pediatrician and ask for an autism screening.
  • Research indicates that early identification and intensive early intervention can result in significant positive outcomes for many children with autism.

Early signs of autism spectrum disorders

By 4 months of age:

  • Does not make eye contact or makes little eye contact
  • Does not seem interested in other people
  • Does not react by looking at people when they are making social "sounds," such as humming or clapping
  • Does not show as much interest in people as objects
  • Does not have a social smile (smiling back to someone who smiles at them without being cooed at or touched)
  • Does not show interest in watching people's faces

By 12 months of age:

  • Does not combine eye contact with smiling
  • Does not babble (or the babble doesn't sound like "talking")
  • Does not look at objects that another person is looking at
  • Does not try to engage other people in what he or she is looking at or doing
  • Does not engage in interactive gestures, such as giving, showing or reaching for parents
  • Does not respond when his or her name is called
  • Does not show a caring or concerned reaction to other people crying
  • Does not use gestures, such as waving "hi" or "bye," or use the index finger to point

By 24 months of age:

  • Does not look toward an object that is pointed to
  • Does not point to share interests with others, such as pointing to an appealing toy
  • Does not imitate common activities of others, such as sweeping the floor
  • Does not learn simple, new interactive routines
  • Does not develop pretend or make-believe play, such as feeding a doll
  • Does not use single words by 16 months; does not spontaneously use meaningful two-word phrases ("go car" or "look doggie") by 24 months

Other early signs:

  • Experiences a significant loss of language or social skills that he or she once had
  • Echoes what others say (echolalia) without regular spontaneous speech
  • Demonstrates speech that sounds mechanical, almost robotic
  • Uses limited or atypical facial expressions
  • Prefers to play alone or does not show interest in other children
  • May not enjoy cuddling or being touched, unless it is on his or her own terms
  • Displays repetitive body movements (hand flapping, spinning)
  • Fixates upon a single object, such as a spoon or book
  • Cannot tolerate change in routine or environment, such as a new toothbrush or a replacement for a lost toy
  • Demonstrates difficulties with sensory regulation (light, texture, sound, taste, smell)
  • Lines items up or puts things in order, repeatedly
  • Has excessive tantrums and is difficult to console
  • Walks on tiptoes
  • Has delayed motor skills (late walking, riding a tricycle or learning to jump)

The presence of any one or a combination of these warning signs does not necessarily mean that your child has an autism spectrum disorder. If your child demonstrates any of these signs, please discuss your concerns with your pediatrician and ask for a referral for further evaluation.

To purchase the book, "Autism Heroes: Portraits of Families Meeting the Challenge," visit

For more information about The Help Group, please visit

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