As diagnosed cases of autism spectrum disorders rise all around the world, the need for pediatric specialists in autism is greater than ever. Unfortunately, since cases of autism can vary widely from child to child, the challenge for any pediatrician to keep up with current research and treatments can be very difficult.
Diagnostic Challenges of ASD
The problem with a proper diagnosis of autism is that the symptoms can fall within the range of many other disorders and diseases. A high-functioning autistic child may seem very similar to a child who has attention deficit disorder, but the treatment for the latter differs greatly from the interventions used to treat pervasive developmental disorders. The symptoms of autism can be subtle, making early diagnosis difficult, and many tests for autism rely heavily on parental observation and input.
Thankfully, more pediatricians are coming up to speed on the current research as the cases of autism skyrocket. In California, for example, the number of cases of autism has risen much faster than expected over the past decade. The state has met the challenge by establishing the Pediatric Specialty Center in San Jose in January of 2009.
A hub for families to meet up with pediatric autism specialists, the center is both a research facility (with clinical services provided by the May Institute) and a place for families to both diagnose and explore treatments for their children. The Good Samaritan Hospital provides the space for the center, and this cooperation between agencies is an echo of the team-based treatments that have proven effective for children with autism.
Pediatric Specialists in Autism as Part of a Team
Because autism is such a challenging disorder, usually the families work with more than one professional after their child is diagnosed. These teams usually include educational specialists, speech and occupational therapists, and medical professionals including pediatric specialists in autism. It is imperative that these people remain focused on the child's specific developmental needs when coming up with a strategy for treatment; occasionally disagreements arise between members of the team who have differing backgrounds and experience with autism. Coming to consensus is usually easier when everyone remembers that the purpose of their team is the well-being of the child, not the promotion of any particular agenda.
When no Specialist is Available
While the ranks of pediatric autism specialists are growing as more and more medical schools offer it as a focus, it still may be difficult for a family to find the right care for their child if they feel he or she might have autism. Several resources are available to help find treatment:
- Online resources such as Autism Speaks or the Autism Society of America have listings of professionals in various areas.
- Local support groups formed by families of children with autism can also be found through online resources such as the MD Junction Autism Support Group and the Autism Support Network.
- Autism Link features a comprehensive list of service providers organized by state.
- Schools often also have connections to support services for children of all levels of autism, and usually have specific administrative staff in charge of streamlining children into the larger school population with the necessary training for teachers.
The best schools for autistic children will have direct links with pediatric autism specialists. They will be an integral part of designing the environment, activities, and curriculum within the school.
Behavior specialists can provide support and guidance in helping to develop appropriate behavioral responses. These specialists are important members of the individual's treatment plan as they develop a viable plan of action.
Therapeutic staff support (TSS) are specially trained therapists who work one-on-one with children. These team members use prompting and interventions specifically outlined in the treatment plan to help the individual reach goals.
Case managers, speech therapists and occupational therapists may also be involved in the treatment plan, depending on the individual needs of the child.
There are alternative treatments for autism that can also be used either instead of or as part of a larger traditional medical regimen of therapy. Examples include special diets created by nutritionists and anti-fungal treatments designed to eliminate the Candida fungus. However, it is imperative that parents consult with professionals before embarking on any treatment themselves. While the family is always an integral part of any autistic child's treatment, they should be part of a team working with experts in the field.