Children's Health


Back now with Day to Day. Just before the break, we met Amy Thompson. Her six-year old son, Kollin, was recently diagnosed with autism, but not by his pediatrician. He was diagnosed at school. I spoke with Dr. James Ball - he's an autism specialist with more than 20 years' experience - about how common that is.

Dr. JAMES BALL (President and Chief Executive Officer, JB Autism Consulting): It's a lot more common than you would think, because I think for the more challenged kid on the spectrum, the signs of autism are a lot more prevalent, because those kids don't string words together, they don't have a lot of language, or the language that they have they don't use. For the kids that, you know, are at the more able end, or even with your kids with Asperger's, those kids are going to have great language, and those kids are going to be able to use their skills. So, they tend to fall through the cracks, and once they get to school - and they're there for longer periods of time - the teacher starts to see some of the social things come out. And that's where, for the kid at the high end, or the kid with Asperger's really has the most difficulty, and that's in the social-skills area.

BRAND: Well, is there something, though, that pediatricians can look out for earlier, so that they can get the diagnosis earlier and get the services in for these kids who are at the mild end?

Dr. BALL: The thing to do would be to listen to the families. Because when you're in a pediatrician's office for a half hour, if you're lucky, or a 15-minute glimpse at that kid, you're really not going to see a lot. So, I think they really need to give parents the resources they need. Just in case, get the kid checked out by someone that would know autism in general.

BRAND: The parents also need to trust themselves, right? I mean, it's hard sometimes when you go into a doctor's office and you've got a medical authority there, to trust yourself and say no and disagree with the doctor.

Dr. BALL: I've seen mother after mother and father after father that I've talked to, and they're like, you know, Jim, there was just something not right, and I knew it. The problem, though, especially with the kids at the higher end, is that typical development will mask itself a lot with the autism diagnosis, because kids will ebb and flow and they, you know, some kids will mature later than others. And a lot of times this is the family's first experience with a kid, so they might not have a lot of experience with typical development. So, the pediatrician says, you know, they're going to grow out of it. They might just be, like, OK. And then you lose valuable time in that interim where you could be getting services, you know, that that child needs.

BRAND: Why is it so important to have early diagnosis?

Dr. BALL: The earlier they're diagnosed and the better the therapy, and the more intensive the engagement, the better the prognosis, because these kids really need almost to be re-taught some things. And because the brain is still malleable at a very young age, you can change some of those pathways where these kids can actually start to engage more. They develop more language. They're not as, you know, for lack of a better term, hard-wired. Those young ages are where, you know, you see a lot of the global gains in these kids because of the therapy that they can receive at earlier ages.

BRAND: Dr. James Ball is an autism specialist in New Jersey. He's also the author of a new book. It's called "Autism and Early Intervention: Real-Life Questions and Real-Life Answers."

Dr. BALL: Thank you.

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