April is Autism Awareness Month and there is a lot in the news about autism. More and more children — up to one out of 68 — are diagnosed with autism. Sesame Street even has a new character, Julia, who has autism. But what exactly is this condition, how does it affect children and what can you do to help? …
Diba Jalalzadeh, now 12, paces energetically around the waiting room. She has been coming to Boston Children’s Hospital since she was a baby. Today she is seeing her developmental medicine specialist, Dr. Carolyn Bridgemohan.
But she’s just one of the many specialists Diba sees at Children’s.“We touch on many departments,” says Monir, Diba’s mother.
Diba was diagnosed with Crouzon syndrome when she was 10 months old. She has had several surgeries to manage the effects of her craniofacial syndrome on her skull, eye muscles, tonsils and adenoids. She currently wears a brace on her chest to counter kyphosis (her shoulders’ tendency to cave in).
Though she’s never gotten really sick, Diba is a complex patient. Unrelated to her syndrome, she also meets criteria for autism spectrum disorder, so procedures most kids will put up with can potentially make her very anxious.
Blood pressure measurement? “She doesn’t enjoy that at all, but she tries to get through it.”
Sleep study? “She had a very hard time sleeping through the night but she managed to sleep a little,” says Monir. “If you ask her to do it again, she says, ‘No I can’t even try it!'”
Eye patching for an exam? “I won’t do it.” (She finally agreed to it at the end of the visit.)
Even measuring Diba’s head circumference can be a challenge.
Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)—the expert panel that provides recommendations about preventive services—published a draft recommendation about screening for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in young children. The recommendation does not support early screening for ASD.
It is currently open for public comment. Many pediatric developmental specialists and researchers are concerned with the conclusions. Drs. Sarah Spence and Carolyn Bridgemohan, co-directors of Boston Children’s Hospital Autism Spectrum Center, offer some insights into the recommendation and the benefits of early screening. …