Published (April 01, 2013) - Autism is complex. It is a disorder that affects each child differently. However, most children have problems with communication, specifically speaking and understanding others. The symptoms show up early in life, sometimes as early as infancy, but generally before three years of age, and they may become more noticeable as the child matures. Parents can seek the expertise of a developmental-behavioral specialist- a pediatrician who is trained to diagnose and treat a variety of developmental, learning, or behavioral problems including autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Barbie Zimmerman-Bier, M.D., chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and Genevieve Kumapley, PharmD, a pharmacist and an advocate for families coping with autism, lead training sessions during a mission to Ghana.
Children who have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorders should be evaluated by a physician with expertise in the evaluation and management of ASD. Most developmental and behavioral pediatricians are skilled in the diagnosis of autism in very young children and in their follow-up care. They can also evaluate children for other medical problems and refer families to physicians who practice other related medical specialties. It is not rare for a child with ASD to also have medical problems such as a gastrointestinal disturbances (constipation, reflux, and diarrhea), sleep difficulties, feeding issues, and/or sometimes seizures. Treating conditions that go along with ASD may increase a child’s comfort, and improve learning and progress.
Recent statistics on autism have shown an increased prevalence, especially in New Jersey, where one in 88 children have a diagnosis of ASD. While there has been improvement in early diagnosis of the disorder, especially among certain ethnic and racial groups), many families still face challenges finding appropriate medical care and necessary behavioral therapies for their child.
The Developmental Pediatrics Division at Saint Peter’s Children’s Hospital has worked to develop the Jump Start 4 Autism program. The program is designed to fill a gap in treatment for children with autism who are at risk for developmental delays.
The program provides a six-week intensive direct behavioral service and parent-training program for high risk/medically complex children with autism. The program also provides training to community members/volunteers. This pilot program is the first treatment program to centralize and coordinate care for the child with autism.
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