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When your child is autistic

April is National Autism Awareness Month. Several organizations and government agencies will have educational opportunities related to autism and autism spectrum disorders throughout the month. Here's a wrap-up of tips:

It's inappropriate to talk baby talk to a child who is autistic, and it's typical for a child to react in an angry way if he or she is spoken to in a sing-songy, in-your-face way. Parents and other relatives can help teach new coping skills and try to influence the attitudes of other people their kids meet.

Try techniques such as: "When I meet someone new, I step back three steps and extend my hand." Or say to strangers when your child is with you: "Please don't get too close to me because I don't know you. I'd like to shake your hand."

The overall problem is that the public generally does not know how to relate to people with disabilities. When a child is treated like a baby, a caregiver can ease the situation by saying something informative that connects her with her chronological age, taking her out of the "baby stage."

Experts in the field say that social interaction comes naturally to some kids but befuddles children with autistic tendencies. Children with autism have problems with social interaction, meaningful communication and creative play. Writing down set responses is empowering,

At sell-out national autism conferences last year, Temple Grandin, an author and animal scientist, has pushed the mystery of autism into the spotlight to get early help for children:

When Grandin was diagnosed at age 3 with autism in the early 1950s, information and hope were minimal. As with Grandin, the complex developmental disability typically involves a range of delays and impairment in social skills, language and behavior.

"Every child is different as far as sensory difficulties," Grandin says. "One sense learns better than the others."

Grandin thinks in pictures to process information, whereas others with autism may have visual processing problems and learn better through their sense of hearing.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 110 children has symptoms somewhere on the autism spectrum -- from mild and high-functioning to severe. Boys outnumber girls 4 to 1. Typically, the earlier a child is treated, the better the prognosis will be.

The brain disorder autism is the fastest-growing disability in the country, based on U.S. government statistics. To help parents see red flags early on and seek treatment for developmental delays as early as possible, check out these tips:

Peek-a-boo. Pretending. Imitating faces. To autism experts, these mini-social milestones are more than just child's play.

If your toddler lives in his own little world, talk to your health care provider. Every child is different, but a lack of interest in connecting socially is a core deficit of autism.

Developmental milestones such as smiling, pointing and waving bye-bye are important. From birth to 5 years, your child should hit milestones in how he plays, learns, speaks and acts. A delay in any of these areas could signal a developmental problem, including forms of autism, and call for screening and intervention.

As the numbers climb, never before has so much information on autism-related disorders been made available through new books, the Internet and several television documentaries and talk shows. Stay informed to be the best advocate you can be for your child.


Can you help?

Q: My grandson is 54 inches tall and weights 107 pounds. His parents and other grandparents are kind of overweight. He is active, but it worries me because he is kind of heavy and he has a terrible diet, such as waffles for breakfast and burritos for dinner. -- a grandmother in Hamburg

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