Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Here at Children In Motion, not only do we get to work with some amazing families, but we also get to work with some pretty awesome professionals. One of which is licensed psycologist Avital Cohen. At Peachtree Pediatric Psychology, Avital's private practice, her primary focus is on the assessment of autism spectrum disorders, as well as developmental delays, learning difficulties, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and more. She has always loved 'fitting all the pieces together' during assessments, but her passion for autism related assessments ignited during her internship at Brooke Army Medical Center. Her involvement in organizations like GAAC (Georgia Autism Assessment Collaborative) have fueled her passion for early assessment & intervention. Outside of the office, Avital enjoys reading, cooking, and taking her three children to the farmers market. You can finder her online at https://peachpsychology.com
How young is too young for an evaluation? Can’t I wait to see if he/she will grow out of it?
Previously, many parents were told by their pediatricians or other individuals to wait when they expressed concerns about their child’s early development. However, with all we have learned about early intervention, this is changing. While it is true there are wide range of ages in which kids achieve early milestones, there are also red flags that can be noticed at early age. Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder can start as young as 12 months with our current tools, with some research looking into red flags as young as 9 months. Most pediatricians in Atlanta now use the M-CHAT to screen for concerns. This checklist is also available online through Autism Speaks (https://www.autismspeaks.org/screen-your-child). The M-CHAT is a great screening tool to help determine if consultation with a developmental specialist is needed. The CDC also has a great milestone tracker (https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones-app.html) that can help parents have conversations with their pediatrician about any areas of concern.
What types of early signs should I be looking for?
Around 6-7 months of age, your child should be returning smiles, getting excited when they see a familiar caregiver, cooing or babbling, and enjoying games like peek-a-boo. If your baby is avoiding eye contact and not engaging, it is important to talk to your pediatrician or another professional. By 12 months, your child should be using gestures (waving, nodding) and responding to their name. Your 2 year old should be using multiple words and starting to put words together into 2 word phrases. Other behaviors to be aware of are extreme interest in one topic or character, advanced knowledge (e.g., reading at age 2, memorization of facts), repetitive body movements (e.g., toe walking, hand flapping), and unusual play behaviors (e.g., lining up items). Any regression, such as loss of language, also warrants follow up. There are other red flags to consider and no one concern means that your child is on the autism spectrum. However, if you see any of these red flags or other delays, please talk to your pediatrician or another professional.
I don’t want a label for my child – why should I go in for an assessment?
I encourage parents to keep in mind that “labels” or the diagnoses we use are really a way for providers to communicate to each other about the combination of behaviors they are seeing with a child. A label does not change who your child is, but may help providers know what needs to be done to support any areas of delay. Additionally, without a diagnosis, getting services covered by insurance is pretty much impossible!
What difference can early intervention have?
Initial research studies indicate significant differences for outcomes in kids when assessment is started at a young age. More research is needed, but it makes sense to think that working with children at a younger age would be associated with better outcomes. The younger we are, the easier it is to learn a new skill. Just like children are natural sponges for picking up a second language when they are young, so too do I believe that starting to teach social skills and language development at a young age to kids on the spectrum means we are working with kids when their brain is as plastic and open to learning as possible.
Is early diagnosis only important for diagnoses like Autism Spectrum Disorder?
No, correctly identifying other concerns early (learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.) can also impact long-term prognosis. For example, some kids with ADHD get negative feedback about their behaviors and begin to internalize the negative statements they hear, which can trigger anxiety and/or depression. Additionally, in learning, it is essential that the early building blocks set a solid foundation for future learning. If a child is struggling to get the concepts they should be picking up in kindergarten, it is only going to get exceedingly more difficult for them to keep up in 1st grade and so on.
Thank you so much Avital for all of this information! I especially loved what she had to say about "labels" & that they don't change who your child is. I completely agree! We'd love to hear what your thoughts are about early intervention and testing, are you a fan? or not so much?