AltaPointe psychiatrist encourage screening for autism as early as 18 months of age


The month of April is set aside to promote autism awareness.  Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges.

The Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network estimates 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder each year.

Edgar Finn, M.D., AltaPointe Health child and adolescent board-certified psychiatrist, says that number has grown substantially since his days in medical school.

“When I was in school it was 4 out of every 10,000 children were identified as having autism,” Finn said. “Autism is a disorder that has been increasing in prevalence the last several years. The increase is due in part to the awareness raised by parents, teachers, and medical residency programs.”

Finn says people have notions about autism that are not always accurate. He believes dedicating an entire month to educate ourselves and become better informed about what autism is and what we can do to help people with autism is important.

“We as a society need to be a bit more careful about the stigma attached to developmental disabilities such as autism,” Finn added. “Early intervention is important when it comes to treating autism which is a chronic developmental disorder.”

Medical experts say the autism spectrum is vast, adding there are as many degrees of autism as there are people with autism.  There is no known cause for autism, but Finn says there are steps parents should take if they suspect their child may be on the spectrum.

“Every child should be screened at 18 months,” Finn added. “While there is no cure for autism, there are treatments available for some of the target symptoms that individuals with autism may manifest such as anxiety, hyperactivity, and depression.”

Finn says education is the foundation for treating autism. He adds applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is one treatment for behavioral intervention that has proven to be helpful. ABA is the use of techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior. “Once ABA is taught to parents and teachers it can be applied 24 hours a day and not just with ABA therapist.”

A child psychiatrist is called upon when educational and behavioral interventions such as ABA are in place, but a child is still having difficulty with certain symptoms such as irritability, or depression. Finn adds medications are available that can offer relief. “When applied carefully and conservatively these medications can be very beneficial,” Finn shared.  “There is hope for patients with autism, and we are making great strides in treatment all the time.”

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