The process of diagnosing autism

March 8, 2011 3:57:53 PM PST
What causes autism? Researchers believe it's part genetic and part environmental.

And it's tough to diagnose because there's no one test for autism. But one Houston researcher says she can sometimes diagnose autism in newborns.

Two-year-old Raine's parents are concerned that he might have autism because he has an older sister with autism. Kevin and Meredith Langford's daughter Zoe is now 6 and siblings have a higher risk of having autism, too.

"Early intervention is the key; we waited a really long time to get Zoe diagnosed because we were truly in denial," said Meredith Langford, who had a child undergoing evaluation for autism.

Zoe is doing well with therapy and medication and she's in regular classes at school. The Langfords allowed us the rare opportunity to watch through a window as Raine was evaluated for autism. During the test, it went from play to making demands.

Dr. Pauline Filipek's specialty is deciding between two-year-olds' tantrums and what might be an autistic trait. She has even done studies in babies and says she can see autistic traits in newborns.

"That intense eye contact, that's characteristic of typical babies, is missing in some babies and that's what we're looking for as a risk of being at risk for autism," Dr. Filipek said.

If babies won't make eye contact, she says parents should teach eye contact by not letting them look away.

"Making it a pleasurable experience for them and rewarding them verbally when they do," she said.

Diagnosing autism is much more complicated than eye contact. The Langfords pray that Raine does not have autism.

"It would be very hard for us at first, but you know, like I've always said, autism is an obstacle course you've got to get through; you've got to make sure you give them the right tools, and they will flourish," Langford said.

And today, their daughter Zoe is flourishing.

For the same screening tests the sixth graders in the study got, parents can call:

Hearts Child Screening
Memorial Hermann
$150 for ultrasound of the heart, EKG and doctor's checkup

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