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Minority toddlers with autism are more delayed than their white counterparts.

The biggest increases in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been found among black and Hispanic children and Dr. Rebecca Landa is bringing greater awareness of the disorder in recognition of National Autism Awareness Month.

Dr. Landa believes more can be done at an earlier age to identify autism, and her research continues as she works with even younger children to develop interventions for the earliest possible age.

“We found the toddlers in the minority group were significantly further behind than the non-minority group in development of language and motor skills and showed more severe autism symptoms in their communication abilities,” says Landa, whose study included children and parents of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent. “It’s really troubling when we look at these data alongside diagnosis statistics because they suggest that children in need of early detection and intervention are not getting it.”

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of neurological and developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 88 children have been identified with an ASD. With 1 in 54 boys identified, the largest increases were found among African-American and Hispanic children.

But autism is not necessarily a sentence to an unproductive life.

Because of greater public awareness, as well as early diagnosis of autism, which has led to earlier and better treatment, more ASD children are growing up to find success in school and work, and increasing number of students are being prepared for and admitted to college.

At least a dozen colleges and universities in the U.S. have programs to help high performing ASD students to get acclimated to the challenges of higher education.

About Dr. Landa

Dr. Landa obtained her master’s degree at the Pennsylvania State University and her doctorate at the University of Washington. She completed post-doctoral training in psychiatric genetics at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of the National Institutes of Mental Health(NIMH) Shannon Award for excellent and innovative research, as well as the Rita Rudel Prize for Developmental Neuropsychology.

Dr. Landa directs the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute, which offers a uniquely interdisciplinary approach to serving children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families. The center combines educational, clinical, diagnostic, outpatient and outreach programs to create treatment that is tailored to the particular needs of individual children and their families.

My son has autism but he’s not autistic. He’s 17 and plays football.

Terrific! This shows that every child should be given the chance and encouragement to be all he or she can be!

Do you believe that autism is partly caused by foods with enhanced chemicals?

Researchers are studying how environmental exposures interact with genetics to cause autism. I have not heard about this cause but will keep my eye open on the topic.

Autism treatments are very expensive so money may decide what level of help you get.

There is a legal obligation for state and local intervention and education programs to provide intervention to children with developmental delays. You may need to get an advocate or social worker to help you get treatments your child needs.

My daughter is autustic. Tell parents to get your kids checked early! My girl wants to know can she have autistic kids?

YES! Tell your doctor if you have concerns. If your doctor says all is well, but you don’t think so, keep seeking help. Your daughter may be at increased risk for having a child with autism. She can see a genetic counselor to help find out.

Do children with autism have any problems playing sports or learning instruments?

Yes. Most children with autism have motor impairments, and therefore have problems learning to be good at sports and playing instruments.

Will there ever be a cure? My son struggles every day.

We expect that there will be a cure for some forms of autism one day.

Should autistic children be mainstreamed?

This depends on the child’s needs, and the school’s ability to provide good instruction in an inclusive setting.

Is it passed on from generation to generation?

Autism is heritable, but there are different genetic causes in different families. So in some cases, yes, it is passed on.

I have a friend whose insurance stopped paying for her child’s behavior therapy, which is helping her child. Are there other resources out there?

If the behavior is interfering at school, the school may need to help provide behavior intervention services. Also check with your local Autism Society of America chapter for resources.

What about parents in denial? The kid has symptoms, but the parent doesn’t want her child “labeled.”

Ask the parents questions about their child to help them see how their child differs from other kids. And give them the Autism Speaks website so they can get good information. Intervention helps kids!

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorders (what autism is now called) affect social, communication, and behavioral development. Some kids are more severely affected than others. Kids with autism have trouble connecting socially with others. They may have unusual eye contact, decreased range of facial expressions, infrequent attempts to get engaged socially with others, and trouble taking others’ perspectives. There’s lots more to say. Look up autism online for more.

My son was recently diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Where is the best place to find services to help him and to find a summer camp that is for kids with Asperger?

Good idea for summer camp! Check with the local chapter of Autism Society of America and ask around. Other parents usually have the best information on resources; also some social workers in autism specialty clinics may have information for you.

My son has autism. He is 8 years old. I feel as though I have to fight with the school district to get assistive technology. Can you help?

I am sorry to hear this. This is a common experience. You may need an educational advocate. Do not give up. Also, join hands with other parents, and to the extent possible, meet with school officials to change the way your school system views services for kids with autism. I wish you well on this.

What is the connection between autism and the MMR vaccine given to toddlers at the age of two?

There is no scientific evidence of a connection. Kids with autism, even those who had no vaccinations, usually show a decline in development that is most noticable between 12 and 24 months or so. That is the time when the MMR is given, so some people think that the vaccine caused the change in their child.

At an early age, should parents use a development age and stage questionaire?

Yes. Developmental charts and screeners can help parents know if their child’s develoment is on track. Find a chart that shows milestones for social development too. Look at the Center for Disease Control’s free information on “Learn the Signs, Act Early”.

I am dating a man that I believe has some autistic behaviors, but I am not sure. What are the symptons in an adult male who is functional but could be mildly autistic?

Difficulty taking others’ perspectives, intense interest in certain topics or hobbies or collecting/hoarding things, inflexible behaviors (like has to drive the same route each time), low levels of empathy, doesn’t do “thoughtful” things for others, may even have sensory differences (bothered by certain sounds, lights, textures of clothes), etc.

I’m one of those moms who knew something was wrong but didn’t know what to do. Is there anything I should do for my 18 year old son who I now realize showed signs of autism around 2 years old. He is doing fine now besides being a little socially awkward.

You probably did a lot to help your son without even knowing it. Help him have insights into his social awkwardness so he can do better at taking others’ perspectives. Help him find a job that is right for his skills, and even get social skills intervention if needed. There are Aspergers groups that he may want to look into.

My son’s diagnosis is PDD-NO. He is considered by many to be higher functioning, therefore finding services for him is extremely difficult. Do you have any programs that benefit children who are higher functioning? Any information for services would be greatly appreciated.

Look at Michelle Garcia-Winner’s social skills and communication programs. If anxiety is a problem, look at Judy Reaven’s anxiety treatment program.

The speech pathologist suspects ny niece has autism. She turned two this month. Her evaluation is scheduled six months from now. What organization can we call to speed this up?

You should really look around for another place for her to be seen, or call and ask to get an appointment when there is a cancellation. Most important thing: good treatment, even without the formal diagnosis. Lots of speech-language intervention, and probably occupational therapy.

My granddaughter is 29 months old. She hasn’t talked as of yet. She has said “uh oh” and “mama.” She has three older siblings and they do everything for her. I’m worried. She doesn’t have the other signs. She does greet you and points. She hums songs all the time. I got her to do her two fingers up this past weekend for her age.

You are good to notice these red flags. She needs to be assessed and needs speech-language therapy. Don’t delay. She may not have autism, but she has a language delay, and that can lead to problems in school later if not treated early.

My goddaughter is waiting to be diagnosed with autism. How do you control her behavior when she acts out because she fights. I understand it’s because she can’t talk, but my best friend is at her wits end.

She needs to see a behavioral psychologist. Don’t delay. There is good help out there for this.

What type of comorbid psychiatric disorders are comorbid with autism?

Anxiety is the biggest one. Also depression, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder – these are the main ones.

My goddaugther is three & we still have a lot of trouble understanding what she says. Shouldn’t she be speaking better?

Yes. See a speech-language pathologist. Call the early intervention program through the school system or state health department- services are free.

Is it okay to introduce athletics to a child of 11 years who has autism? Say for instance, football.

Yes, but work with the coach to be sure your child has the proper supports. Does he want to do it? In any case, exercise is really important for kids with autism.

My 3 year old granddaughter has been diagnosed with ASD. My concern is her mom’s understanding of discipline to keep her from harm or danger. Can you help?

This is a common problem. Children with autism don’t understand danger like other kids. Look at Autism Society of America (call your local chapter too) and Autism Speaks for more information, but your daughter needs to connect with other parents of kids with autism to get tips and an appreciation of her daughter’s needs.

Are people with autism more prone to an atopic history?

I have never heard about that.

This child is very smart he understands exactly what you ask him to do! But his skills in the classroom are very different then the other 3 year olds. How can I tell a parent that their child is showing signs of autism? He doesn’t want to sit down for particular activities. He has to do something or he disrupts the entire class. He loves puzzles.

Kids with autism often have exceptional skills in some areas (like visuo-spatial skills- for doing puzzles) compared to their language and social information processing problems. Their language comprehension may greatly exceed their expressive language skills. Autism is based on social impairment. If he isn’t showing imagination and creativity in his play, intiating games with peers, able to make friends and play what other kids want to play, imitate his peers, etc, he may have autism.

What are the symptoms of autism and what do I look for?

Depends on age and IQ of the person. For more information, google “DSM V autism.”

I work at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism and I see many of our African-American families leave their children in bad programs and their children have autism. My son acts the same way. The problem is I can’t get anyone to test him. The Dallas school district just blows it off. What can I do?

This is a huge problem. Can any autism experts in your area help? How about education advocates? Can you band together with other parents and work together with school officials for system-wide change? Meantime, advocate for your child! The community must pull together to help families who are trying to do their jobs, take care of family, and be well.

I am in South Carolina and I have a 22 year old with autism. He is moderate to severe. After our kids get older, I feel like they are forgotten about. There is no help.

Reach out to autism experts (like at University of South Carolina) and other parents and your Health Department. Also, can parents join together and work with local universities and employers to create innovative programs? Try Autism Speaks Services grant options to get money. Also Dan Marino Foundation.

How does my child’s doctor test for autism?

Pediatricians usually just use screeners, like the MCHAT. Developmental pediatricians and other professionals may give an Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and ask you questions about social, communication, and behavioral features.

I have a nephew who is 11years old & is autistic & seems to get worse as he gets older. My niece has been fighting the system for years to get him help. What options does she have to get better help for him? They diagnosed him too late. He was four at the time. She can’t get him in an a school that can really help him because the school district is giving her a hard time. He may know five words.

The child needs good Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. He also needs a good medical workup by an autism specialist and may also need an educational advocate to help get services. Also see a good social worker to help get supports and financial help.

Where can I obtain a copy of the study on autism that was cited this morning? I’m on the Kennedy Krieger Institutes web site, but I don’t see a reference to it.

Please send me an email at and I will get it for you.

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