Doctors are urging parents of toddlers to closely monitor their child's behavior. Few children have been diagnosed with autism during the pandemic, even though it has steadily been on the rise the past few decades.
A mom wants to empower parents and share her unique approach to help. Dr. Mary Barbera is sharing her life’s lessons from raising a child with autism.
"I fell into the autism world, in the late 1990's, when my husband first mentioned the possibility that my firstborn son, Lucas, might have autism. My husband's a physician, and so he knew what to look for, I didn't know, but it was really scary to me and I had never thought there was anything, even a speech delay wrong with Lucas at the time," explains Dr. Barbera.
Her son showed signs at 21 months but wasn’t diagnosed with moderate to severe autism until he was three.
At the time, Dr. Barbera and her husband had the chance to closely monitor their child around others, to more clearly see the signs, but most people haven't had that opportunity the past year.
"Usually signs of autism show up between the ages of 1 and 3. When you think about one-year-olds, they've spent their entire lives in isolation. They have barely left the house. They haven't gone to cousin's houses, or they haven't gone to birthday parties or to the library story time or even to the grocery store. So they have just really interacted with their parents and maybe their siblings. So there are not those transitions to go like ‘whoa something's not right here, he's not behaving like the child that's sitting next to him at story time,’ so I think it's really challenging," says Dr. Barbera.
Doctors say there have definitely been fewer children diagnosed with autism during the pandemic, even though the rate has continued to rise the past few decades. Now 1 in 54 children is diagnosed with autism by 8 years old. One in 6 children has some type of developmental disorder.
The first step to getting help is knowing the signs.
"You can go to the CDC's 'Act Early' website, check out what should my 18 month old be doing, and not just talking but self-care. Should they be drinking out of an open cup? Should they be washing their hands? Or if you have a 3- or 4-year-old, you can get exactly the milestones they should be doing," says Dr. Barbera.
Step 2 is good communication with your child's doctor.
"I really want to partner with pediatricians to make sure that we are looking at development and treating it as soon as it gets off track. And then step three is to learn about the turn autism around approach. It's based on decades of research on Applied Behavior Analysis and it's child friendly," says Dr. Barbera.
She also says it's all easily explained in her book, Turn Autism Around with a 4-step approach! Her mission is to teach other parents what she has learned not only academically, but personally.
"I needed to learn how to teach my child to talk, how to reduce tantrums, how to get him to sleep in his own bed through the night, how to eat better, he was very picky eater, how to go to the doctors, dentists, and haircuts without a fuss," says Dr. Barbera.
Her son is grown now and she has learned how to do all of that, so she wants to help others successfully do the same. She also offers the valuable information FREE of charge.
"There are so many strategies and I also have a resource guide for free on my website, where you can get all the book resources. You don't even have to buy the book. You could just get the book resources and start taking action today," says Dr. Barbera.
The CDC Act Early website can help you educate yourself on what your child should be doing physically, cognitively, and language-wise at their age and can be a huge help in understanding your child’s ability.