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Moving from Awareness to Acceptance of People with Autism

We have all heard the term “autistic” or the phrase, “on the spectrum.” But what do those phrases mean? What IS the spectrum?

The “spectrum” is the wide range of symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism for short. It is a condition related to brain development that affects the way someone perceives and engages with others. It can cause challanges with communication and social interaction.

April is World Autism Month. Organizations supporting families coping with autism are working to move beyond awareness to acceptance, because ASD doesn’t affect everyone the same way. 

Father Holding His Kid

Whom It Affects

One in 44 children under the age of 8 were identified with ASD according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. It affects all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. It is, however, four times more common in boys than in girls.

The causes are unclear; however researchers have ruled out any link between childhood vaccines and the disorder. It is believed there are a combination of biological, environmental, and genetic factors. According to the CDC:

  • Most scientists agree genes are one of the risk factors that make the development of ASD more likely.
  • Children with a sibling with ASD are at higher risk of having ASD.
  • People with certain chromosomal conditions like fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis have a greater chance of having ASD.
  • Evidence suggests the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during, and immediately after birth.
  • Children born to older parents are at a greater risk for having ASD.

What to Look For

Between 80% and 90% of parents of children with autism saw signs of ASD in their children by the time they turned two years old according to the National Autism Association. Intervening early can have a positive impact on the child’s long-term success.

The NAA recommends using the acronym SPOT to look for early signs of autism.

  • S. Social Differences — avoiding eye contact, disinterest in other children, strange play patterns
  • P. Persistent Sensory Differences — gets upset over normal daily sounds; overreacts or underreacts to lights, smells, tastes, or textures
  • O. Obsessive Behaviors — flapping hands, rocking back and forth, focused on one object or activity
  • T. Talking Delayed — little or no babbling by one year; no words by 16 months; seems deaf; loses previous verbal skills or language
Teacher and Student in Class

Treatment Options

Treatment for ASD is centered on reducing the effect symptoms have on daily life. The range of strengths and challenges for people with autism varies dramatically since ASD affects people differently.

Treatment typically involves several professionals and are created for the individual. They are administered in community, education, health, or home settings, or a combination of some or all of those.

Communication is important so providers are all working toward similar goals and supporting the stated progress and expectations.

Treatments typically fall into the following categories:

  • Behavioral — Applied Behavior Analysis is a behavioral treatment encouraging desired behaviors and discouraging undesired behaviors to improve skills.
  • Developmental — These focus on speech, language, physical, and other connected skills.
  • Educational — Given in a classroom setting, this treatment category arms teachers with ways to adjust classroom structure to improve outcomes.
  • Social-relational — These treatments help build emotional bonds and often involve parents or peer mentors.
  • Pharmacological — There is no medication for ASD, but some medications are used for co-occurring symptoms like hyperactivity, anxiety, or depression.
  • Psychological — Cognitive-Behavior Therapy is an example of an approach, focusing on the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Complementary and Alternative — These augment traditional approaches and could include special diets, animal therapy, mindfulness, art therapy, or chiropractic care.

We Can Answer Your Questions

AltaMed is available to provide specialized care to newborns, giving them the best start at life. That includes age-appropriate immunizations and screenings. Our pediatricians also have information on early childhood development milestones and can talk to you about any concerns you may have during your child’s first few years of life. They can also help you find specialists in areas like child neurology and pediatric developmental behavior. 

Get started by contacting us today at (877) 462-2582.

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Child and mom

What to Know about Early Childhood Development Milestones

The first few years of a baby’s life are crucial for development. How they move, act, talk, and respond to different stimuli are indicators of whether they are on track in their growth. These are all milestones.

All children should be able to do certain things from two months to five years. Some may be a little ahead of their development and some may be a bit behind. It’s important for parents to know what to look forward to and when to call the doctor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a great resource for a child’s developmental milestones along with a free mobile app parents can use for tracking. But here's the timeline to watch for:

Two Months

Most babies will start to smile at people. They will try to look at their parents and can briefly calm themselves by sucking on their hands. They begin to coo or make gurgling sounds and will follow sounds. They pay attention to faces and will start to follow things with their eyes. They can hold their heads up and may start pushing up when lying on their tummies.

Talk to your doctor if the baby:

  • Doesn’t respond to loud sounds
  • Doesn’t watch moving objects
  • Doesn’t smile at people
  • Doesn’t bring hands to mouth
  • Can’t hold head up when on tummy

Six Months

Most babies know their parents by this age and like playing with them. They also like to look at themselves in a mirror. They make sounds in response to sounds. They will start putting vowels together when babbling and will respond to their name. They bring things to their mouth, pass items between hands, and try to get things that are out of reach. By six months they should be able to roll over from front to back and back to front. They will start to sit without support and can support their weight when standing. Sometimes they crawl backward.

Talk to your doctor if the baby:

  • Doesn’t reach for things
  • Shows no affection for caregivers
  • Doesn’t respond to surrounding sounds
  • Has difficulty getting things to their mouth
  • Doesn’t make vowel sounds
  • Doesn’t roll over
  • Doesn’t laugh or squeal
  • Seems stiff or flops like a rag doll
Mom Smiling to Her Baby

12 Months

By year one they should at least be shy with strangers and cry when their caregiver leaves. They have favorite things and people. They show fear. They will hand you a book when they want a story and help you get them dressed, and will repeat sounds and actions for attention. They will shake their head “no” and wave “goodbye.” They will try to say the words you say and respond to simple spoken requests. They start to do things correctly like drinking from a cup or brushing their hair. They will start banging, shaking, and throwing things. They will look at pictures of the right thing when it’s named. They may be able to stand alone, take a few steps without holding on, be comfortable walking while holding furniture, and sit up without help.

Talk to your doctor if baby:

  • Doesn’t crawl
  • Can’t stand when supported
  • Doesn’t search for things you hide
  • Doesn’t say words like “mama” or “dada”
  • Doesn’t point at things
  • Doesn’t shake their head or wave
  • Loses skills they once had

18 Months

Tantrums may start around this time. Children will start using their imagination when playing. They will also hand things to others when playing. They will likely be afraid of strangers and affectionate with familiar people. They will start exploring on their own if their parents are nearby. They should have a vocabulary of several words, including “no,” and will point to show what they want. They know what ordinary things are, will scribble, and can follow simple verbal commands. By this time, they should be able to walk up steps and run. They can also pull toys when walking, help undress themselves, drink from cups, and eat with a spoon.

Talk to your doctor if the child:

  • Can’t walk
  • Doesn’t show things to others
  • Doesn’t gain new words
  • Doesn’t have at least six words in their vocabulary
  • Doesn’t notice or care when a caregiver leaves or returns
  • Doesn’t know what familiar items are for
  • Doesn’t copy others
Little Girl Playing on a Slide

Two Years

Your child will show more independence and even defiance by this age. They will get excited when they’re with other children and will play more often with other children. They copy the behavior of others. They can point to things or pictures of things when they’re named. They should know the names of familiar people and body parts, and will point to things in books and form sentences with two to four words. They will start to build with blocks, sort shapes and colors, play simple make-believe games, start using one hand more than another, complete sentences, and rhymes from familiar books, and follow instructions like, “pick up your clothes and put them in the hamper.” Finally, they can climb on furniture without help, walk up and down stairs holding the handrail, throw balls overhand, stand on tiptoe, and start to run.

Talk to your doctor if the child:

  • Doesn’t use simple two-word phrases
  • Doesn’t know what to do with common things like spoons or cups
  • Doesn’t copy actions or words
  • Can’t follow simple instructions
  • Can’t walk steadily
  • Loses any skills they once had
Little Girl and Her Mom in a Doctor Appointment

Development Goes On

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for general development through 30 months and for autism at 18 and 24 months. The CDC has guidelines for other milestones to look for through the age of five years, along with warning signs of when to contact your doctor.

AltaMed provides a complete host of pediatric services including age-appropriate immunizations and screenings. For information or to make an appointment call (888) 499-9303.

Infant Mortality Hands

Separating Fact from Fiction around Infant Mortality

Bringing home a newborn can be intimidating. You’ve spent months preparing your home for this tiny new person and then they’re here. Everything you’ve been imagining is now real.

It certainly doesn’t help to know that there are sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID). It’s a term used to describe the death of a baby less than one year old with no obvious cause. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a SUID most people are familiar with. SIDS is caused by accidental suffocation in a sleeping environment.

It is terrifying to think you could put your baby to bed for the night and they will not wake up. However, it’s rare. There are only 3,400 unexpected infant deaths each year out of 3.6 million births.

The mystery around SIDS and SUID has led to many myths and misperceptions.

Baby and Mom at Doctor's Appointment

Time to bust some myths

Doctors have known about SIDS for decades yet there is no known way to prevent SIDS. There are some effective ways to reduce the risk, which we’ll get to a little later.

That lack of knowledge has led to multiple myths. Here are some along with the facts.

  • SIDS is contagious — SIDS is not caused by an infection so it can’t be caught or spread.
  • It’s caused by cribs — Not by themselves but some features of the sleep environment can increase the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.
  • Babies will choke if they vomit while sleeping on their back — Babies automatically swallow or cough out any fluid they vomit or spit up. It’s safer for a baby to sleep on their back.
  • Vaccines cause SIDS — Recent studies show vaccines may protect against SIDS.
  • SIDS can affect babies of any age — It occurs most often in babies between one and four months, and becomes less of a risk after the baby reaches their first birthday.
Pregnant Woman Touching Her Belly

Contributing factors

The exact cause of SIDS may be unknown, but there are a few environmental and physical factors that are common in most instances.

Physical factors include:

  • Brain defects. Often the part of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep doesn’t work properly.
  • Low birth weight. This could also contribute to immature brain development and be a reason some automatic brain processes don’t work properly.
  • Respiratory infection. Colds or other illnesses can make it hard for a baby to breathe.

Environmental factors include:

  • Sleeping on the stomach or side. It is often easier for a baby to breathe when placed on their back.
  • Sleeping on a soft surface. A waterbed, pillow, or fluffy bedspread can cause a baby to rebreathe the air they exhale which reduces their intake of much-needed oxygen.
  • Sharing a bed. The risk is increased when the baby shares a bed with parents, siblings, or pets.
  • Overheating. The risk goes up when a baby is too warm.

Risk factors

SIDS can affect any baby, but the risk is greater in infants who are:

  • Boys
  • Between two and four months
  • Nonwhite
  • Living with smokers
  • Born premature

Other contributing factors include a family history of SIDS, mothers who are under 20 years old or provide inadequate prenatal care, and parents who smoke, use drugs, or consume alcohol.

Baby Lying on His Crib

Reducing the risk

There is no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS, but there are steps any family can take to help babies have a safer night’s sleep.

  • On the back — Put babies on their back to sleep for the first year of life, or until they can consistently roll from back to front.
  • Empty the crib — Use a firm mattress and limit the toys, blankets, and pillows that could suffocate a baby.
  • Don’t overheat — There’s no need to add covers to keep a baby warm.
  • Share a room — Keep the baby in the room where you sleep for up to a year.
  • Breast feed if possible — Doing this for at least six months can reduce the risk.
  • Immunize — There is some evidence immunizations may help prevent SIDS.

Caring for moms and babies

At AltaMed, we’re thinking about the best ways to care for mothers and their babies — even before they’re born. We provide moms-to-be, wannabe moms, and new mothers with specialized care so they’re in the best health and can pass that good health along to their baby.

We offer a variety of family planning services, including well-woman office visits, and more. And our pediatricians can care for your baby until they are fully grown, including giving age-appropriate immunizations and screenings.

Use our Find a Doctor tool to search based on preferences like the gender you’re most comfortable with, preferred language, and city. You’ll find great AltaMed doctors who can keep you and your whole family healthy.

Moving from Awareness to Acceptance of People with Autism