Dr. Gellner: There is a lot in the news lately about Autism. How and when do pediatricians screen for this? I'll give you the info on today's Scope. I am Dr. Cindy Gellner.
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Dr. Gellner: You know your pediatrician checks your child's development at every well visit. What happens if your child is not following along with their developmental milestones?
Sometimes, we as pediatricians, get early clues as to if something isn't just quite right. Maybe it is a baby who does not make eye contact or babble, does not smile when others smile or talk to them. Maybe it is a child who at 15 months is not saying "mama" or "dada" or any other words.
Screening for autism happens at the 18 and 24 month well child visits. By that age there are several developmental milestones that your child should have met.
While there are a lot of screening tools out there, most pediatricians use something called the revised M-CHAT, short for modified checklist for autism in toddlers. It is a standardized set of questions, with yes and no answers, to see if your child meets the criteria for autism. If the scoring on the checklist raises red flags for your pediatrician, there is a follow-up set of questions to be asked to get more information.
Sometimes kids are late talkers, late walkers, or not very social but still show affection. Sometimes these are because of other people carrying them around or talking for them. But sometimes it is a big red flag that something needs further investigation.
If a child misses certain questions on the M-CHAT that is when your pediatrician will refer them to an early intervention program or developmental pediatrician. Early intervention programs see children up to age three, usually, and they have speech therapists that can help do evaluations if your child isn't talking as they should.
Often, there is a developmental specialist working with early intervention as well. A developmental pediatrician will be able to officially diagnose your child with or without autism and help your regular pediatrician with getting your child any special services they may need.
If you have any concerns about your child's development be sure to bring it up at your child's next well visit or make a special appointment with your pediatrician.
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