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Parents should trust their instincts if they have concerns about their child’s development and whether or not their child has an autism spectrum disorder.

“One of the best things parents can do is be aware of developmental milestones,” Catherine Bradley, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina, said.

While there is a wide range of child development, Bradley said there is research to support that parents’ concerns about developmental delays are accurate.

“When we’re making a diagnosis, we’re looking at a lot of behaviors,” she said. “It’s possible but difficult to give a diagnosis before 16 – 18 months. In a lot of cases we are able to do very accurate diagnosis by age 2.”

Evaluations at MUSC typically last 3 – 4 hours, including a parent interview and questionnaire, as well as direct interaction with the child.

“BabyNet (https://msp.scdhhs.gov/babynet) services are available to anyone,” Bradley said. “We recommend they go ahead and start early intervention services. It’s always in the child’s best interest to start those early intervention services as soon as possible.”

Through short-term or long-term use of BabyNet services, Bradley said it may be possible to eliminate some developmental delays even without a diagnosis.

If parents have concerns about a possible autism spectrum disorder, Bradley recommends they complete the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) questionnaire, available free online from several organizations. This is typically completed for children in the 16 – 30 months age range.

“I think it’s important to make your pediatrician aware,” she said. “We have a lot of good evidence that parental concerns are accurate. When in doubt, go ahead and do the screening and go from there.”

Bradley said children with autism spectrum disorders can have social communication and social interaction symptoms (including nonverbal behaviors, like not making eye contact), repetitive behaviors (speech, movements or repetitive play), sensory behaviors and more. They vary widely in cognitive abilities and language skills and have many different strengths and weaknesses.

“Each symptom in and of itself almost serves as its own spectrum,” she said.

With any concern about development, acting quickly is key.

“It’s important to listen to your gut,” Bradley said. “Seek out early intervention services. You can reach out to BabyNet on your own to get a screening.”

MUSC is part of SPARK, the largest genetic study of autism ever conducted. To learn more about the study and how to participate, visit http://www.sparkforautism.org/MUSC.

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