Friday, March 18, 2011

Too Young for Autism?

In recent years, there has been a rise in diagnosing children with Autism earlier, sometimes as early as 4 months. This radio documentary follows a 2 year old boy named Joseph, who was recently diagnosed. 

Download the radio documentary, "Too Young for Autism?" here!


Joseph is a two and a half-year-old boy who likes to solve his own problems. If he needs to reach something, he pushes a chair over for extra height. If his sister has a toy that he wants, he knows he has to bargain one of his toys for it. What’s different about Joseph than any other American boy? He has Autism

Linda: Everything was healthy about him. I didn’t suspect anything. 

(Above: Joseph trying to sneak some candy before his mother sees)  

Joseph’s mother, Linda, gave birth him on June 23rd 2008. She didn’t realize anything was wrong until she took him in for his 15 month check-up.

Linda: His pediatrician, she said “how many words does he speak. “ I said “only 4 and he means only one or two. She referred him to 
early intervention.
She wasn’t entirely convinced. It didn’t take until more symptoms arose to have him tested. 

Linda: He likes lining up things. Like organizing is a must for them. He wouldn’t sit, he would go and do his own thing. 

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. Only a few years ago, most doctors wouldn’t diagnose children with Autism until they have hit the cognitive stages of life at age 5. But today, more and more children are receiving an early diagnosis.

Rozana: Usually, an Autistic child will have higher functioning social interactions prior to the age of 3, then a significant decline around the ages of 3 and 5. 
Rozana Asfour, a medical student at Stritch School of Medicine, has researched Autism for over 3 years attempting to find different biomarkers or genetic patterns of Autism. She believes that there should be a minimun of age 3 for an official diagnosis. 

Rozana: The diagnostic tool that they use is just a point system of a few social interactions that they have the children make, where they will have the child play with a toy or some object. Or have a child interact with an adult or another child. Therhetically, a child could come in with having a bad day and just not feeling playful and could get diagnosed with Autism. 

In Joseph’s case, she believes that his diagnosis was premature. And as a result, could harm him more than help him. 

Rozana: I think his diagnosis was too soon. When you have an official diagnosis, then you are ruling out other things that could be the issue. 

Adetutu Balogun, or known to her patients and their families as Tutu, has been an occupational therapist for over 15 years. She owns Horizon Therapy, an agency specializing in Early Intervention

Tutu: OT is different than so many other therapies we do, because it’s much more of a dynamic field. You have of course pediatric clients. But, you could work with patients, work in the industry, you can design equipment, you could design adaptive, what we call adaptive assistive devices, you could do so much. Much more than most medical professionals do. We are not as limited as physical therapists for instance.
80% of the patients that come to Horizon are autistic. Since Tutu’s primary focus is pediatrics, all of the clients she works with are under the age of 3. 

Tutu: If you can identify the signs that end up becoming the Spectrum very very early, and if you decide to intervene early,  then you actually can stop negative reactions that will occur and therefore, you can stop the learning of negative behaviors that can arise. So you stop their way of coping negatively and can continue to benefit from what that child is doing
Tutu believes that there is no such thing as too early for a diagnosis. Parents should notice certain signs in their children as early as four months. 

Tutu: There is a gut feeling. You can acknowledge it or not. 

Tutu has been working with Joseph over the past 6 months.

Tutu: From the first day I saw him, I knew he was on the spectrum and he wasn’t even two yet. Those signs were there. 
Every little achievement is a big step for Joseph. And Linda has been seeing more and more improvement since he has began therapy with Tutu. 

Linda: He is saying some more words. He is good at puzzles. His visual memory is awesome. She showed me a puzzle, the alphabet puzzle. She said this is the second time I work with him on this; he did most of it. He put all the pieces in their spots. 

The longer we wait to diagnose children with autism, the more difficult it will be for patients and their families to overcome it. Therefore, early diagnosis is a first step toward a long process toward recovery. 

Tutu: Your child is busy building a very thick bullet-proof wall. You don’t see the eyes anymore, because that child is adding a layer of glass, a layer of glass, almost every second. Your job is to chipper that glass until it breaks. The more you allow that child to build that glass wall, the harder it is to penetrate it and touch the child. The only way you could do it is to just constantly be in that child’s face. It’s almost a 24/7 job, but somebody has to do it. 

To be on the safe side, any infant with a diagnosis of Autism is carefully monitored. 

Linda: Because he was diagnosed in December, there is a reevaluation, probably just to check on his progress. 
There doesn’t seem to be any negative consequences from subjecting a child to therapy geared toward Autism to those who don’t need it, except that it may deter what the real issue may be. For Linda, she doesn’t see any harm if Joseph’s early diagnosis turns out wrong after all. 

Linda: If he’s not Autistic? No, I would have a party. 

There isn’t a lot of certainty in the world of Autism. And that’s the worst part, not just for the patients and their families, but for those who dedicated their lives to research or developing new therapies. 

Linda: I’m worried about his future. Also, I don’t know what to expect. But I know, the good thing is that we started early 

-Lena Asfour

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