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Expert’s Corner: Roula Choueiri, MD, on detecting autism spectrum disorders

Parents concerned about whether their child’s developmental delays might indicate an autism spectrum disorder should remain calm and talk to their pediatrician, according to Roula N. Choueiri, MD, associate professor of pediatrics.

Dr. Choueiri, whose specialties include autism spectrum disorders, neurodevelopmental disabilities, developmental and learning delays, and infant and toddler development, said there is a neurological basis for autism that causes children to have developmental delays, such as speech and communication abilities.

“This does not mean that a child who shows these signs is going to have an autism spectrum disorder, but there are red flags that we really need to monitor and discuss with our pediatrician,” Choueiri said.

Some early signs of autism could include an infant not babbling or interacting with his mother or caregiver by 6 months of age. Another potential sign is if by age 1, the child is not practicing joint attention—pointing to show interest in something at the same time as looking at the object—or not making eye contact.

The best way to make a determination is through evaluation, which might initially involve filling out a questionnaire and meeting with pediatrician or an early intervention specialist.

For children younger than 3, a parent can contact Family Ties of Massachusetts and request a home visit to conduct an evaluation; a formal diagnosis is not required for this and, if needed, the evaluator will help find a provider in the child’s area. For children age 3, parents can contact the local school system and ask about the early intervention programs available.

Learn more from Choueiri about how specialists evaluate children for autism spectrum disorders in these expert’s corner videos.
What happens when my child gets evaluated?
How early can an autism spectrum disorder be detected?
Does speaking two languages cause a language delay?