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Autistic Disorders and Parental Advocacy

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

It is now well established that autism is not a single entity but a disorder that runs along a spectrum from severe autism to pervasive developmental disorders and Asperger’s syndrome. Yet, the diagnosis and placement in proper learning environment in a school setting can be difficult if the school officials fail to recognize a child who falls along ADS(Autistic Disorder Spectrum). Such was the case with one family in New Jersey.

The family had five children before the youngest was born. Its important to mention this because the five older children were all normal. However, the parents noticed that something was not quite right about the 6th child. School officials dismissed her concerns as unfounded and refused to place the child in special education.

Mom brought her child to the pediatrician but was told that nothing was wrong. In fact, further consultations yielded results that were not better. Yet, Mom knew her child and was insistent that something was wrong. Finally, she learned of a hospital that specializes in children who are developmentally delayed. The child was fully evaluated and given a diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder. The family changed school districts and the youngster was placed in a special education environment for children with this type of disorder.

It was only the tenacious and stubborn determination of the parents that yielded results. There is a lesson in that for all parents.

We now know that it is important to identify problems early, get a proper diagnosis and begin training very early in order to help the child compensate for the developmental delays as much as possible. The earlier the intervention, the better the results.

Here are a few symptoms parents should look out for:

1. Delays in or lack of talking,

2. Repetitive use of language,

3. Limited interest in activities or play,

4. Unusual focus on topics or objects,

5. Hand flapping, and body rocking.

6. Problems with social interaction and relationships, such as not being able to maintain friendships with other children or lacking empathy or the ability to understand another person’s feelings, according to the America Psychiatric Association.

If you have any doubt, start with your pediatrician. If you are not satisfied with the results, go the next step to a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in these disorders, in order to get an evaluation and treatment.

I have known of other cases in which parents were certain that something was wrong but were told that the child was fine. Only persistence based on parental instinct or intuition, resulted in proper diagnosis and treatment. In fact, I had a case in which a three year old child seemed uncontrollable. The mother and child were referred to a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist who diagnosed the child with severe ADHD. Early intervention made a huge difference for both child and parent.

What types of experiences have you had with or similar problems with special needs children? Your comments, questions and experiences are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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