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Autism is a developmental disability increasingly being diagnosed in young children.  It can be devastating to families, but help is available through early diagnosis and treatment.

It is estimated that one in every 88 newborns in the U.S. may be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and incidences of the disorder are increasing.  Dr. Mary Dobbins, assistant professor of psychiatry at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, says one reason for the increase in autism is that the medical profession is getting better at diagnosing it.  She describes the disorder:

“Autism is different than other developmental abilities where kids may be just slow or have a learning disability. These kids tend to be socially nonconventional.  They just look at the world from a different perspective.  A lot of times parents will describe them as marching to a different drummer or being kind of quirky.. .”

Dobbins says other characteristics of children with autism include speech and language being delayed or different. They have stereotypical behaviors such as being overly interested in certain things, or they may rock or spin repeatedly.  She says children have the best chance for improvement if diagnosed and treated early. 

“At this time, there are no specific treatments for autism itself, but the different characteristics of autism that can be treated.  There are a lot of things that are nonmedical. Things like school services, social skills group, therapy group, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy.”

Dobbins says parents of young children who have symptoms of autism should make an appointment with their primary care physician or pediatrician for evaluation.  If autism is diagnosed, they may be referred to a pediatric specialist or neurologist for treatment.

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.