Personalized Care Provides Kids with Autism Exactly What They Need
Within the world of autism spectrum disorder, Dr. Stephen Shore is often quoted: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
According to Jordan Nordquist, MD, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist with Avera Medical Group, the same goes for diagnosing and treating autism.
“Each child is so different. That’s why personalized treatment, based on the specific deficits that they experience, is important,” he says. “When children receive this kind of treatment, they’ll be equipped with the tools and skills they need to live their best life.”
Nordquist adds that it’s important to make a diagnosis as early as possible. Although autism cannot technically be “cured,” the deficits can become less functionally impairing for a child when treatment begins early and focuses on his or her specific needs.
Early Signs of Autism
Identifying the early signs of autism is a team effort. Parents and caregivers may notice some of the signs as early as six months or as late as 2-3 years old. Pediatricians and primary care providers also offer screening during well-child exams. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism at their 18- and 24-month well-child visit.
If you notice any of the following signs of autism, talk with your provider and ask about a referral to a child psychiatrist for further testing:
- Limited or no eye contact
- Delayed language development
- Persistent repetition of words or phrases
- Repetitive behaviors such as rocking, spinning, etc.
- Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
- Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors
Diagnosing & Treating Autism
Nordquist describes how – at its core – diagnosing autism is about identifying social and communication deficits.
“There can be a variety of deficits – such as poor communication skills or problems in loud environments – and they can vary from highly impairing to not impairing at all,” he says. “For example, a child with autism may have fewer socialization deficits and could have restrictive and repetitive behaviors that are more impairing, or vice versa.”
Through specialized training, psychiatrists like Nordquist are equipped to analyze the wide variety of behaviors associated with autism and evaluate to what extent each particular one impairs a child.
“By honing in on what causes the most impairment, we can tailor and prioritize treatment for each child. The goal for treating autism is to improve function and quality of life as much as possible by focusing on the areas in which a child needs the most support.”
Treatment options may include:
- Behavioral therapy such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
- Occupational therapy
- Optimizing the child’s environment at school or home
- Social skills training
- Speech therapy
Although some may feel hesitant about screening for autism – and the possibility of receiving a diagnosis of autism – Nordquist encourages anyone with concerns to seek the help of a medical professional.
“There’s less stigma surrounding mental health conditions, including autism, because people are starting to understand and accept that it’s a medical diagnosis that can cause deficits. And like many other medical diagnoses, there’s also hope for a better quality of life available through treatment.”