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More than the “terrible twos”

March 3, 2010

A study in this month’s issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry finds that signs of autism can appear as early as a child’s first year, but parents don’t often notice it until their second or third year.

The researchers found that in babies who were eventually diagnosed with autism, there wasn’t a lack of social skills; rather, they were actually experiencing a steady regression of social skills between 6-18 months.

Stefanatos

Gerry Stefanatos, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in Temple University’s College of Health Professions and Social Work, has been studying this phenomenon for years, and says because of the subtle signs of regression, it’s often hard for parents to discern when something goes wrong.

When Stefanatos works with parents, he frequently asks them to provide video of the child at various points in development (birthdays, holidays) to determine the history of the potential disorder. The videos can show the child engaged with people and yet a year later, show that same child with serious withdrawal.

“If you have suspicions, go and see a pediatrician and explain what you’re seeing in your child,” Stefanatos said. “If there is in fact a regression, it helps to have another set of eyes to confirm suspicions. You may also want to seek out a specialist in autism to assist with diagnoses. Because you are with your child every day, it can be difficult to appreciate subtle changes over time.”

Read an article by Stefanatos on Regressive Autistic Spectrum Disorder, in the journal Neuropsychology Review.

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