Children with autism are colourful - they are often very beautiful and, like the rainbow, they stand out.”― Adele Devine


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that approximately one in every 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in the United States. While boys are four times more likely to receive an autism diagnosis than girls, autism can occur in both genders and is usually diagnosed around the age of four.


Lashaundra Thedford-Smith, MD, internal medicine and pediatrics physician at UAB Medical West Hueytown Health Center, discusses autism spectrum disorders and what parents can do if they feel their child might be on the spectrum.


What are autism spectrum disorders?


Dr. Thedford-Smith: An autism spectrum disorder is a multifactorial disorder with an early onset of difficulties in social interaction and communication, sensory integration issues, repetitive behaviors or restrictive behaviors, and/or interest in activities.


The onset of autism usually occurs around the age of three.


What are the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders that parents and guardians should look out for in their children?


Dr. Thedford-Smith: If there is a lack or limited social interaction occurring in your child, including both verbal and nonverbal communication within the first three years of life, then you might want to discuss the possibility of autism in your child.


Typically, socially awkward behaviors like avoidance of eye contact, problems with emotional behaviors or control, issues understanding emotions and empathy, and repetitive or mocking bird-like behavior that is not always associated with a social purpose or cue are signs a child might fall under the autism spectrum.


What should parents and guardians do if they feel their child might have autism?


Dr. Thedford-Smith: It is extremely important for parents to remember that every child has different strengths and weaknesses in life. As a parent, you just want to make sure your child is the healthiest individual he or she can be in life.


If you do feel your child might have autism, then make an appointment with a pediatrician who can give your child a proper medical evaluation, which includes an evaluation of your child’s cognitive motor, social, and speech development through a series of examinations, tests, questions, and tasks.


In addition, the physical exam will help to rule out any other reasons why your child might be exhibiting this behavior, including but not limited to a hearing deficit, a mood disorder, or another type of disability.


What is the best treatment option for children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder?


Dr. Thedford-Smith: Remember, it is important to treat the child—not the disorder. Therefore, treatment for autism should be best-tailored to fit the child’s individual needs.


Since autism is commonly associated with other comorbid physical behavior and psychiatric disorders like ADHD, schizophrenia, and other mood disorders, medication like antipsychotics, seizure medications, stimulants, and SSRIs might be used to help control the adverse and maladaptive behaviors.


In addition, early intensive behavioral intervention and immersive behavioral therapy may be applied to help teach new skills and essentially find creative ways to socialize children with autistic spectrum disorder and prevent socially crippling behaviors. Cognitive behavior therapy with a psychologist or therapist has also been found to be beneficial to decrease the amount of anxiety and children with average to above average and cues.


Do you think your child might have autism? The medical team at UAB Medical West in Bessemer, AL, is here to help.


Call our physician referral line at 205-996-WEST to schedule an appointment with a UAB Medical West provider. We are here to serve the communities of Hoover, Bessemer, McCalla, and Vance and more!