As a child grows, doctors and parents are watching closely to make sure they hit their developmental milestones. All missed milestones are important, but some are more serious than others. Some missed milestones can be an isolated delay, often easily addressed with targeted therapy. Other complex medical problems or genetic conditions are associated with developmental delays that can be anticipated and addressed. A constellation of specific delayed milestones may indicate a diagnosis of autism: a serious developmental disorder that impairs a child's ability to communicate and interact with others.

Autism - or, by its proper name, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - affects 1 in 68 children. To ensure that they receive care and treatment, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that a child's 18- and 24-month wellness exams also include developmental screenings for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Without intervention and support, an autism diagnosis can make it challenging for a child and their family to thrive.

Early screenings for autism and other early developmental issues are just one example of the care available at Capital Area Pediatrics. To better support families that are experiencing developmental challenges, our team also wants to hear concerns from parents during their child's visits. By mentioning symptoms or specific behaviors to us during your visit, we can better recognize and address the signs of developmental delay or other behavioral concerns.

To schedule an appointment with a CAP pediatrician and begin this important conversation with our team, find your nearest location and contact us today.

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FAQs on Early Development & Autism Care

What Is Autism? And Why Do Doctors Refer to it as Autism Spectrum?

While often shortened to the singular word "autism", the proper term for this condition is autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech delays, and nonverbal communication. While these are all hallmarks of autism, exact symptoms and their severity can vary from child to child.

What Causes Autism?

This is a difficult question to answer, and one with no clear cut answers.

Currently, experts know that there is no singular cause of autism. For example, genetic factors and environmental influences are known to increase the risk of an autism diagnosis later in life. However, while we know these factors affect a child's risk, we also know that not every child exposed to the same risk factors will develop autism. This indicates other unknown factors are likely involved in autism disorders.

At this time, research is ongoing to help the medical community and families better understand the complexities of an autism diagnosis.

When Should Parents Discuss a Potential Autism Diagnosis with their Doctor?

There are a number of potential signs and symptoms parents can watch for and report to their pediatrician. A child with ASD might do one or a combination of the following (with behaviors beginning to present by 18 months of age):

  • Not respond to their name (perhaps giving the wrong impression of appearing deaf)
  • Avoid or resist physical contact
  • Not point at objects or things of interest
  • Struggle to demonstrate interests
  • Develop interests to an obsessive degree
  • Not play pretend games
  • Avoid eye contact and have minimal or non-existent social skills
  • Have difficulty understanding, or showing understanding, of other people’s feelingsor their own
  • Have no speech or delayed speech
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over
  • Give unrelated answers to questions when asked
  • Be upset by minor changes in their routine or environment, or play with their toys in the same manner repeatedly
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions (over or under-sensitivity) to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
  • Line up toys or other objects in an orderly fashion
  • Exhibit behaviors that negatively impact family, peer or teacher interactions on a regular basis

Should you notice any of these symptoms in your child, contact your pediatrician and ask for an appointment to discuss your concerns and carry out an ASD screening.

Additionally, parents should always monitor their children carefully as they grow and to report any and all delays to their pediatrician. Sometimes your doctors may know to look for certain disorders when specific milestones are missed.

How Can Capital Area Pediatrics Help with Early Development and Autism Care?

Our goal at Capital Area Pediatrics is to help families coordinate services and therapies to help each child reach their full potential.

Even before you might express specific concerns about your child, Capital Area Pediatrics performs early universal screenings - developmental screenings offered as part of the standard pediatric visit from birth through the age of three. These services are a vital part of our practice, as early identification of developmental disorders is critical to the well-being of children and their families. Additionally, earlier interventions in developmental disorders offer the optimum level of support to children.

After initial discussions about developmental concerns, Capital Area Pediatrics is able to offer additional consults and screenings to families struggling to find answers regarding their children’s health. During these consults, our team can discuss issues and/or observe concerns regarding your child’s behavior.

Our team can offer assistance with making a final diagnosis - whether for isolated developmental milestones; complex medical problems associated with developmental issues; or children with social delay or speech and language delay with specific concern for autism.

When necessary, our doctors can refer to our in house Developmental Nurse Navigator, Jacqueline Winkelvoss, RN, for further care coordination services for suspected autism and other developmental concerns. Additionally, our doctors can refer to our in house Developmental Pediatrician for a full evaluation and determine if ASD is the proper diagnosis.

Finally, if during your visit(s) we determine that additional assistance would be beneficial to your family, we can provide referrals for additional testing and in-depth evaluations as needed. In these cases, care coordination services will be made available to families to ensure that regular communication between their specialists and their pediatricians continues in the interest of better treating your child.