ABC7 Special: Autism Heroes FAQ

Answered by Dr. Barbara Firestone, President & CEO, The Help Group
LOS ANGELES What is Autism?

Autism is considered to be a spectrum of brain based disorders ranging from mild to severe that include classic autism, high functioning autism, Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorders -- Not Otherwise Specified.

Autism is characterized by language/communication problems, impaired social interaction, and repetitive, rigid behaviors and interests. Autism affects children of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

How early can a child be diagnosed with autism?

Current research reveals that autism can now be reliably diagnosed in many children between 18 and 24 months by an experienced clinician, and that some of the early signs are recognizable within the first year of life.

What advice would you give to parents who suspect their child is developing differently?

Early detection and early intervention are parents' best frontline offense in confronting the challenges associated with autism. When parents first suspect that early signs of autism may be present they should discuss these concerns with their pediatrician and ask for an autism screening. The presence of any one or a combination of the early signs does not necessarily mean that your child has an autism spectrum disorder.

How can early identification and intervention help a child?

Due to the plasticity of the developing brain of a young child, there is a window of opportunity when intensive intervention can have a significant and positive impact. If children with autism can be identified as early as possible and begin intensive intervention, ideally before the age of three, then the chances for progress are enhanced for many children with ASDs.

Are there changes taking place today that hold promise for their children and families?

The good news is that the momentum of autism has never been greater than it is today. As science moves forward in both basic and applied research, greater focus is being placed on the use of the best practices built on evidence-based recommendations in assessment and intervention, and advocacy groups continue to promote positive change.

Public policies are being examined and reshaped to address the compelling need for services. The ongoing controversies and the quest for definitive answers stimulate important dialogue and debate. With the exposure of the issue of autism by the mainstream media and other public awareness efforts, the public is becoming better informed and eager for change.

The stigma of autism is in the process of being fully and forever lifted by the light of greater understanding and acceptance. Society is becoming more fully engaged in the agenda of ensuring brighter futures for all the children with autism spectrum disorders.

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