Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Need For Early Detection & Intervention
Created by Deepti Deshpande Updated on Jun 03, 2019
Soham was just a typical 16 months old baby, much like other kids at his age, bursting with energy, running about, and jumping trying to explore all that was around him. However, I started noticing a few behaviors which were a little different than a child his age would do. Soham seemed to be oblivious about what was happening around him. He seemed to tune out people and activities in his immediate environment, his only focus would be watching the blades of a fan turning round and round or just spinning the wheel of his dinky cars with an intent gaze.
When my husband or I called out to him, he would not respond to his name. We thought that it was natural as he was immersed in his solo play. His boundless energy was a cause for our admiration as we thought it was good that he was so active.
My attempts at engaging him with age-appropriate games and activities became futile as he displayed a complete disinterest in playing with them meaningfully. Another aspect that bothered me was that he had not started calling me mamma or picked up much language. The only words he knew were circle and moon which were something that he found equally fascinating as much as anything that was round.
Around the time that Soham was 2 yrs and 8 months, we happened to take him for another vaccination to another pediatrician who came highly recommended. As we waited our turn in the waiting room, my gaze fell on a chart on the wall which said: “If your child exhibits the following traits, it could be a sign of autism." The traits described there were much of what Soham was displaying. As I voiced my concern to the pediatrician, she too felt that further investigations were required and referred us to a highly renowned pediatric neurologist. However, we were put on a waitlist for almost 2 months.
The meeting with the pediatric neurologist turned my sense of foreboding into real fear as he told us that our son was on the spectrum. The good news…. He was mildly autistic. Soham at that time was 2hrs and 10 months old. The doctor suggested intensive occupational and speech therapy. We started with the necessary intervention immediately.
Does early detection help?
Early detection of autism goes a long way in helping a child develop the necessary skills to cope with day to day functioning and to live a meaningful and fulfilling life in a social setup.
Why Autism does not get detected early on?
There are various factors that delay the process of detection.
- Lack of family support - There are several instances, when the primary caregiver (usually the mother), suspects abnormal traits or socially inappropriate behaviour in her child but does not get the necessary support from her spouse or family to get her child assessed, hence delaying the detection.
- Playing the wait and watch game – At times the caregivers may feel that they just need to wait it out and the child will outgrow those traits.
- Misdiagnosis - Sometimes a misdiagnosis also can lead to delay in the appropriate intervention. For instance, a child may initially get diagnosed with ADHD, and although some form of therapy may get introduced, some of the other therapies might get missed out on.
These factors prevent a child from getting diagnosed early and in turn delay the necessary intervention. Additionally, it also puts a mental and emotional burden on the primary caregiver. The efficacy of any intervention is optimal when a child with ASD gets diagnosed early on as much as 18 months – 3 yrs
The gap between detection & intervention
In certain cases even if autism is detected early, the intervention gets delayed due to factors such as:
Need for multiple validations - It is not easy to accept a verdict about autism and parents may try to get the child reassessed. In certain cases, it’s good to get a second opinion but at times, some parents deliberate and even go for a third or fourth diagnosis. Crucial time may get lost in the process.
Absence of awareness of the right therapy centers that can provide an adequate level of expertise- A rise in autism cases, has led to a rise in therapy centers. However, not every clinic or center has the competency to deliver effective therapy. Due to the dearth of the right information, parents may not receive the required level of intervention
The social stigma of having an autistic child and the fear of others knowing that the child requires therapy.
Benefits of early detection & intervention
Improving the overall development of the child in terms of cognitive skill building (these are skills associated with brain’s ability to carry out the simplest to the most complex tasks, and include the ability to read, think, learn, recall, pay attention and reasoning)
Building speech and language for effective communication which includes expressive language skills (ability to put your thoughts into words and sentences that make sense) as well as receptive language skills (ability to understand information).
Helps the child to gain essential social skills to bond and work with other people.
Additionally, a parent can learn early on how to help the child physically, emotionally as well as mentally throughout the different developmental stages with guidance from experts and specialists.
As the child grows, intervention helps him/ her in improving the overall quality of life by building additional competencies.
Facilitates self-care skills, leisure skills, and community skills.
The strain and pressures of raising and caring for an autistic child can be challenging and can lead to tension points between the parents. Early acceptance, coupled with early intervention can prepare them emotionally and mentally for the road ahead. Find this blog useful? Share it with fellow parents