Signs of Autism Your Pediatrician May Miss

Pediatrician with little boy
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Why Pediatricians Miss the Signs of Autism

Our pediatrician is a good friend and a highly experienced doctor. But when we brought our son in for his regular three-year checkup, he saw no developmental red flags.

Our son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder six months later. This time, he was seen by an evaluation team including a psychologist, speech therapist and occupational therapist.

Of course, we went back to our pediatrician and asked why he hadn't seen any problems. He apologized to us, but noted that our son's physical development (height, weight, skeletal structure) was right on schedule. Tommy had also used two-three words phrases to express himself, once again right on schedule.

How Caregivers Pick Up on Signs That Pediatricians Miss

The signs of our son's autism were brought to our attention by his preschool director. Unlike our pediatrician, she saw Tommy in action every day. She was able to see that, though he used language, it was repetitive and "echolalic" (that is, he was repeating phrases from videos). Though he had no obvious physical problems, he did have significant delays in fine and gross motor skill development.

Our experience is not unusual. Most pediatricians are not highly trained in picking up developmental red flags. And they see a lot of kids who have slight or brief delays and then develop normally. Parents, nannies, and day care or preschool providers, though, see your child every day. Where your pediatrician may see shyness or a mild delay, you may see a pattern.

Getting the Information You Need About Autism

Pediatricians' lack of knowledge about autism spectrum disorders is a problem because research shows that the earlier autism is diagnosed, the earlier a child can begin treatment. In general, early treatment through an early intervention program can make a big positive difference in outcomes. For autism to be diagnosed, primary care pediatricians need more and better information and training.

To help in this effort, Nancy Wiseman created First Signs, a non-profit corporation Its purpose is to provide medical professionals and the general community with the tools they need to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders as early as possible. Her website, First Signs, is a terrific resource for parents who are concerned about their child's development. It includes developmental guidelines, red flags to look out for, and content to share with your medical practitioners. Wiseman's new book, Could It Be Autism? is a more in-depth guide to what to look for - and what to do if you find it.

Sharing Information About Early Signs of Autism

One lesson we learned from our experience is -- don't be afraid to share your concerns with your pediatrician, along with specific detailed information about your child's differences and challenges. If your pediatrician pooh-poohs your concerns, consider finding a qualified autism specialist to conduct an evaluation. At worst, you may find your worries were unnecessary. At best, you may able to help a child get the treatment he needs.