Kids Health Matters: Having a child diagnosed with autism

Awareness and support for children with autism is changing, but parents still face big challenges.

Erin Troy of Drexel Hill says her son Jack was 15 months old, when his family noticed a change.

"We moved from California to this coast. And he just stopped interacting with people," Troy said. "No sleeping, no stopping, like just constant movement."

He also stopped talking.

Dr. Emily Bernabe of Nemours DuPont Hospital says Jack's first signs of autism were pretty typical, as was the timing - between 1 and 2 years of age, although symptoms can appear as early as 6 months.

"If their parent smiles at them, do they smile back? Do they imitate their parents' sounds and noises, do they engage in social play with their parents, like tickles or songs?" Bernabe said.

About 1 in 59 children develop autism, however, much more likely in boys - in about 1 in 38.

"The tools that we're using are better in identifying children," Bernabe said.

But every child will show a different range of deficits and capabilities.

Dr. Bernabe says fast action after the diagnosis makes a difference.

"Early intervention is key in order to see gains in functional skills, communication, social play, and social interaction," Bernabe said.

Picture cards recommended by his doctor helped jumpstart Jack's communication.

"He was able to read by 3," Troy said.

But it took several years before he learned how to soothe himself and not constantly move.

And with medication, he finally slept more than two hours a night.

"What he can do and accomplish during the day with a good night's sleep is a world of difference," Troy said.

Jack is now in mainstream classes in middle school and on the honor roll.

He's a walking encyclopedia on commercial companies and stocks, and he loves movies.

Erin Troy says parents still have the same child after an autism diagnosis - just a new role.

"I had to convince myself to stop trying to figure out why it is what it is, and use all that energy to get the services and things to move him forward," Troy said.
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