FORT WAYNE — Doreen King was not concerned that anything was wrong when she was asked to come back for a follow-up appointment after her son Calvin’s 18-month wellness appointment.
“I didn’t think anything of it, because with a small child you see the doctor often,” recalls King. “But then the doctor told me he had some concerns about Calvin’s development and that he should have been saying a few things by this age and he wasn’t saying anything at all. They were also a little concerned about eye contact and development in general.”
In the United States, about one in six children aged 3 to 17 years have one or more developmental or behavioral disabilities, such as autism, a learning disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Developmental screening looks at how a child is developing. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends developmental and behavioral screening for all children at 9 months, 18 months and 30 months. In addition, AAP recommends that all children be screened specifically for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at 18 months and 24 months.
Calvin’s follow-up confirmed a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Alexandru Tanase, MD, CMQ, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician with Lutheran Health Physicians in Warsaw, recommended that the Kings enroll Calvin in a program called First Steps.
“When a child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, many parents feel overwhelmed and experience high levels of stress. It is important that parents take time to experience the feelings,” Tanase said. “The child is still the same person, and the diagnosis just provides a medical explanation for why the child has a certain set of strengths and weaknesses.”
“There is no one-size-fits-all treatment,” Tanase said.”The goal of treatment is to maximize a child’s ability to function by reducing ASD symptoms and supporting development and learning. Early intervention during the preschool years can help the child learn critical social, communication, functional and behavioral skills. An individualized approach with close monitoring is recommended as the child’s needs change over time.”
King feels Applied Behavior Analysis therapy (ABA) has been amazing for Calvin. The goal of ABA therapy is to increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease behaviors that are harmful or affect learning.
“Dr. Tanase checks on Calvin’s development often,” King said. “He’s now 4 and while mostly not verbal, he is understanding us a lot better. He needed to learn how to learn. He’s been able to point to things that he wants, take our hands and lead us. He knows commands, so if he’s going to do something dangerous, we can tell him to ‘stop’ and he does.”
King says it has been a journey but feels blessed to have people like Dr. Tanase involved along the way.
“I don’t say this often, but Dr. Tanase is probably the most intelligent doctor I have ever worked with for any reason,” said King. “He seems to always be right. We trust him.”
“It is essential not to think of autism as a disability as it does not diminish a person as a human being. The treatment is not about fixing a person with ASD but rather allowing them to reach their full potential in life and to be loved and accepted for who they are,” Tanase said.
If you have questions about your child’s development, make an appointment and communicate with your pediatrician about any concerns. If you are in need of a pediatrician, Lutheran Health Physicians providers are available for telehealth and in person visits across Northern Indiana.