Autism Autism is usually diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 6 years old, but symptoms usually surface much earlier. That's why it's so important for parents to know what milestones to watch for in their infant and toddler. Areva's son, Marty, now 11 years old, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. "It was very devastating for me and my husband," she says. "What really bothered us the most was that we didn't know what to do. We didn't know where to get information. We didn't know how to navigate the systems. It became very clear to me that I needed a roadmap, so what I did with The Everyday Advocate was take all the information I learned as a parent, working with parents through my nonprofit Special Needs Network and parents whom I work with through my law firm, and I gave parents a roadmap, so you don't have to worry, you don't have to guess. You know what to expect and how to navigate and get the best services for your child.
Autism is a complicated developmental disorder. It's called Autism Spectrum Disorder because the symptoms and the severity of the condition can vary greatly. Most commonly, autism affects a person's ability to correctly process emotions, language and senses.
It is estimated that one out of every 110 kids in America will be diagnosed with autism. No one is certain what causes the disorder, and the subject is hotly debated across the country. Currently, there is no cure for it.
Six Autism Warning Signs
• Little or no eye contact
• Lack of social engagement
• Speech delay or lack of speech
• Lack of pretend play
• Inability to point with index finger
• Regression or loss of skills at any time little or no eye contact
• For a complete list of autism warning signs from the CDC, click here.
Your child should begin to make eye contact with you as an infant and respond to you with a smile around 3 months old.
If by 5 months old, your child is not smiling or he/she dislikes peek-a-boo from 6 to 9 months, talk to your pediatrician. Not every child is talking by their first birthday, but a typical 12-month-old says at least "mama" and "dada," and can point with their index finger. If your child seems unresponsive, or at any time loses a skill, that's a warning sign. Repetitive behaviors, spinning or rocking may also indicate autism.
If your child is exhibiting any of these behaviors, seek the advice of your doctor.
"Brains can heal if aggressive treatment is done early," pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears says.
Research by the University of Washington shows that an autistic child's IQ, language ability and social interaction skills can be improved if the disease is detected early. Treatments for autism, some of which can begin as early as 18 months of age, include applied behavior analysis, hyperbaric chambers and working with animals.
Areva Martin, award-winning attorney, author of The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up for Your Child with Autism and mother of an autistic son, joins The Doctors to discuss the importance of being an advocate for children with special needs.
"You don't have to be a lawyer to be an advocate," Areva adds. "Anyone can be an advocate."
Children with autism or other special needs are sometimes segregated from other students at school, but Areva vehemently opposes this practice. "It is not OK to segregate kids with special needs. It's not OK to separate them from their typical peers," she says. "You can use some other measures. These are children. These aren't animals, and they have basic human rights, and you need to know your legal rights.
"My son, Marty, ever since he was in kindergarten, he's been in a typical class, mainstream with his typical peers," she adds. "He has an assistant with him, but those kids provide modeling opportunities for him. I say that all children with special needs can benefit from being around other kids."
Raising an Autistic Child
When doctors told former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete and his wife, actress Holly Robinson Peete, that their son RJ had autism, their lives changed forever. "Not only did we get the news, we got, 'He will never look you in the eye. He will never come up and say, "I love you." He will never mainstream in school. He will never play organized sports. He may never live on his own, so these are the things that you need to get ready for,'" Rodney says. "And our son was 3."
Rodney and Holly didn't know what autism was and became frustrated with the lack of information about raising an autistic child. "We didn't have any experience with autism, so to give us information like that, we needed more, we needed a fix," Holly says. "Let us know what to do now. OK, this is what he has, how do we fix it? And there wasn't that information."
Holly and Rodney, along with their family, worked hard to overcome the challenges that RJ and their family faced. RJ, now 12, was receptive to the treatments and therapies he received and has beaten the odds. He now plays piano and team sports, and goes to a mainstream school. "We want to give a message of hope, and acceptance and love for how beautiful and special these children are," Holly says. "These are beautiful children, and they are valuable to society."
"We don't want to see these kids be put in a box and [say], 'This is who they are. This is what they're going to be for the rest of their lives," Rodney adds. "To put these kids in a box at such an early age is something that can't happen."
The Peetes founded the HollyRod Foundation in 1997, in honor of Holly's father, Matthew T. Robinson, Jr., who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, to help improve the quality of life of those battling the illness. After RJ's diagnosis, the foundation expanded to help families affected by autism afford treatment and care.
Autism Awareness and Legislation
Meredith and Ralph have three children, 11-year-old twins Nathan and Tyler, and 9-year-old Allison. Nathan and Allison both have autism. "There is no one way of doing things with autism," Ralph says. "You have to just really get involved and find what works best for your child."
Treatments for autistic children can be expensive, and many states don't require insurance companies to provide coverage for the disease. Ralph co-founded the Autism Coalition of Nevada and fought to help make Nevada the 11th state in the U.S. to mandate insurance coverage for evidence-based therapies and medically necessary care for autism. The law will go into effect in January 2011. "We want all 50 states [to mandate insurance coverage for autism]," Ralph says. "This is a medical emergency. How can this not be covered by insurance, and how can these families have to struggle to pay for treatments?"
"I'm so glad you did that," Dr. Jim says. "Not too long ago, pretty much the only covered treatments [for autism] were tranquilizing drugs or institutions. Everything else, parents would have to [pay] out of pocket."
Steve Mauldin founded Stephanie's Day 10 years ago, in honor of his daughter, Stephanie, who has autism. The event offers a fun environment for kids and provides a wealth of services and information for parents with autistic children.
Autism is usually diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 6 years old, but symptoms usually surface much earlier. That's why it's so important for parents to know what milestones to watch for in their infant and toddler.
Areva's son, Marty, now 11 years old, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. "It was very devastating for me and my husband," she says. "What really bothered us the most was that we didn't know what to do. We didn't know where to get information. We didn't know how to navigate the systems. It became very clear to me that I needed a roadmap, so what I did with The Everyday Advocate was take all the information I learned as a parent, working with parents through my nonprofit Special Needs Network and parents whom I work with through my law firm, and I gave parents a roadmap, so you don't have to worry, you don't have to guess. You know what to expect and how to navigate and get the best services for your child.