World Autism Awareness Month: Nurseries urged to look for signs of autism


“More children [in the UK] will be diagnosed with autism this year than with diabetes, cancer and AIDS combined,” states Christine Swabey, Chief Executive of the British charity Autistica, in the newsletter. A recent Health Canada estimate suggested that 1 in 150-160 children have autism. Swabey notes that autism is much more common than people realize. She stresses the value of early diagnosis to allow for crucial interventions whilst the child’s brain is still developing, with the highest chance of supporting the child to build new skills. She would like to see more awareness of the condition amongst early years practitioners and more training to identify the signs of autism in pre-school-aged children.

Swabey said that that while the average of autism diagnosis in the UK is around 5 years, “most parents notice that their child is developing differently around their second birthday. The delay to diagnosis is very stressful for families, who have no explanation for why their child is acting differently.”

Kerry-Anne Lowe, from Autism West Midlands’ (UK) education support team, states, “Early intervention is extremely important in setting up young people with autism for a positive future, and empowering parents to give their children the best possible support. Early Intervention enables parents to gain the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to make a positive impact on their child’s life as early as possible and prepare for difficulties that may arise. Research shows us that the brains of younger children are better able to learn and develop new skills...Children with autism can quickly develop negative or destructive behaviours and routines to help them cope with the extremely confusing world around them – once established, these coping mechanisms can be extremely difficult to change. The earlier we identify difficulties then the sooner we can start to put appropriate support in place to help the child manage the world around them – therefore minimising the behaviours / routines before they become established.”

The Autism Research Lab in Sheffield, UK, is working to develop techniques that can be applied more easily at an earlier age to establish an autism diagnosis. Researchers there are currently working on a three-pronged approach:

  1. Looking to find a brain-based signal for autism that can be used to identify individuals who have, or are likely to have, autism
  2. Studying sensory function in autism in an attempt to understand why people with autism often experience heightened sensitivity to some sensory stimuli.
  3. Collaborating with social psychologists in order to understand the public perception of autism and develop interventions that will improve the public perception of autism.

The US charity Autism Speaks, initiators of the Light It Up Blue global autism awareness campaign, have developed the First Concern to Action Tool Kit for parents who have a concern about how their child is communicating, interacting or behaving, and are not sure how to proceed. The toolkit, available online in English and Spanish, is designed to provide specific resources and tools to help guide parents on the journey from first concern to action.

The First Concern to Action Tool Kit contains the following sections:

  • Introduction and About Autism
  • Understanding Your Child’s Development
  • Talking to Your Health Care Provider
  • Getting a Formal Evaluation
  • What if My Health Care Provider Says “Autism”?
  • Other Things to Know
  • Tools and Resources for Families, including:
    • Questions to consider and think through so you can provide useful information about your child in your discussion with your health care provider
    • A Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)

Autism Speaks also provides the Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit and the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Tool Kit  for parents to help them through the first 100 days after receiving a diagnosis for their child.