Across the Spectrum
Autism is a term for a wide variety of disorders that are sometimes called pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) or autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism affects children and adults of all races, cultures, and educational and economic backgrounds. The intensity, symptoms, behaviors, and types of disorders that are collectively called autism spectrum disorders can range from mild delays to high-functioning Asperger syndrome to cognitive and life-skill impairment (once called mental retardation).
Children with autism have difficulty with using gestures, play, attention, and conversation. They may exhibit repetitive behaviors and have severe temper tantrums. They may have trouble adapting to new or social situations and may be over-sensitive to sights and sounds. Children with autism may have related difficulties, such as seizures, anxiety, hyperactivity, obsessive behaviors, and sleep disturbances.
Scientists have recently reported that about 1 in 150 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Boys are more frequently affected: four out of every five people with autism are male. At this time, no one knows what causes autism nor is there a cure for it. However, there is a genetic link, so if one child is diagnosed with autism, his/her siblings are at greater risk.
The period of birth to 3 years old is a critical time in a child’s development. That’s why the early detection of autism is crucial to getting the child started on a pathway of treatment to address and improve difficulties.
At The Valley Hospital’s Kireker Center for Child Development, we offer a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosing autism. During an intake interview, one of our licensed clinical social workers will complete a needs assessment and recommend the appropriate appointments with our developmental pediatrician, neurologists, audiologist, rehabilitation therapists, and any other specialists as needed. We start with a comprehensive questionnaire about the child, which is filled out by the parents, other caregivers, and teachers. At an initial evaluation, our professionals will see the child to determine the most appropriate diagnosis and to make recommendations for further evaluations, medical testing, and interventions.
With proper intervention that is timely and intensive, a child with autism spectrum disorder can overcome a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and learning difficulties. Children at risk for cognitive, social, or emotional impairment can improve their quality of life. Intervention can lead to greater independence for the child and a more productive, fulfilling life within his/her family and community.
At The Valley Hospital Kireker Center for Child Development, treatment for autism may include one or more of the following:
- speech-language therapy
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
- medication for specific symptoms
Collaboration with public and private community resources include:
- referrals and dialogues with early intervention programs, school districts, and specialized private schools
- social skills groups
- developmentally appropriate recreational activities, such as gymnastics and horseback riding
We monitor all our patients regularly and schedule follow-up appointments as needed.
Providing Support and Understanding
Our team’s licensed clinical social workers are highly skilled in providing counseling and support for parents and caregivers. They can also make referrals to parent support groups and community programs that assist parents with navigating the needs of a child with autism.
Educating Parents and The Community
Our staff can refer parents to a range of public and private resources in order to access additional information so that they can become informed advocates for their child. We regularly hold seminars for parent groups and school districts to update them on the latest information about autism treatment and support services. We also recommend the web sites www.firstsigns.org and www.autismnj.org, which provide a wealth of information about autism spectrum disorders.
To Contact Us
Our office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you are interested in having your child evaluated at our center, we can be reached by calling 201-447-8151 and requesting an evaluation for a child who may have an autistic spectrum disorder.
One of our social workers will first do an intake interview with you on the phone and then send out a packet of information and a questionnaire for you to fill out and return with any test results or evaluations your child has already undergone. Once we receive your completed packet, we will call you to schedule an appointment for your child.
Lisa Nalven, M.D., M.A., F.A.A.P., is Director of Developmental Pediatrics at The Valley Hospital Kireker Center for Child Development. She attained her master of arts degree in social and behavioral sciences at the University of Chicago and her medical degree at the University of Wisconsin. She completed a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in developmental/behavioral pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Dr. Nalven is board-certified in pediatrics, neurodevelopmental disabilities, and developmental/behavioral pediatrics. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Children’s Therapy Center in Fair Lawn, N.J., and serves on the executive committee for the Council on Foster Care, Adoption and Kinship Care for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Red Flags for Autism
Recognizing the first signs of autism can be challenging. Ask your child’s pediatrician or family practitioner for an evaluation if your baby shows any of these signs:
- no big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months of age or thereafter
- no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months or thereafter
- no babbling by 12 months
- no back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
- no words by 16 months
- no two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age