A staggering 1 in 68 children have a diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder in the United States today. Despite the increasing awareness of autistic spectrum disorders and the better tools we have at our disposal for assessing children with ASD, most children are not diagnosed until after they reach 4 years of age, and children previously diagnosed with Asperger's Disorder—those who have more developed language and cognitive skills—are often not diagnosed until after six years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The good news: children can be reliably diagnosed as early as 2-years-old and can start to receive early intervention and behavioral health services as soon as they are identified. Receiving therapy early on can significantly minimize the impact of the disorder.
There is not yet a cure for autism, but there is a wealth of resources available in the City of Philadelphia. Many families naturally go to the reputable hospitals in our city for an evaluation. However, these institutions can have wait lists over a year long—precious time that should not be wasted.
What parents may not know is that there is another alternative. Community Behavioral Health, a non-profit contracted by the City of Philadelphia to provide mental health resources for Philadelphia's Medicaid recipients, supports three 'Autism Centers for Excellence'. NorthEast Treatment Centers, a non-profit organization located at 499 North 5th Street, is one such center. (I am a clinical consultant at the Philadelphia Autism Center for Excellence at NET Centers.) The other centers are Special People in Northeast
and Child Guidance Resource Centers.
The Philadelphia Autism Center for Excellence program there provides children with Extended Autism Service evaluations that include an interview, the use of checklists and rating scales, behavior observations in the home and school environment, and testing using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2), the "gold standard" instrument for diagnosing autism.
These evaluations provide families with a diagnosis, specific recommendations, and may result in home and school-based behavior services, parent training, therapeutic afterschool and summer programs, outpatient therapy and social skills groups—all funded by CBH. Medicaid for children does not have an income requirement in Philadelphia. If your child has a previous or "provisional" diagnosis from a medical doctor, your child is eligible for Medical Assistance and access to these services.
If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms in a young child you know please don't hesitate to contact NET's PACE program at 215-408-4962 for an assessment. There is help.
By 6 months: A lack of eye contact, broad smiles or other joyful expressions
By 9 months: No "conversational" back and forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or facial expressions
By 12 months: A lack of response to name, no babbling, no communicative gestures
By 14 months: A lack of pointing at objects to show interest
By 18 months: No single words; no pretend games (e.g. feed a doll)
By 24 months: No two-word meaningful phrases
Any regression or loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age
Children may also:
repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
give unrelated answers to questions
get upset by minor changes; have obsessive interests
flap their hands, rock their body or spin in circles
have unusual reactions to the way things may sound, smell, taste, look or feel
Melissa Brand, Psy.D. is a Licensed Psychologist who practices in Philadelphia and specializes in autism. She is also the clinical consultant at the Philadelphia Autism Centers for Excellence at NET Centers.