Healthbeat: Experts say pandemic may have kept many children from being diagnosed with autism


FORTY FORT, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — April is World Autism Month to bring attention to a disorder which the CDC says affects about one in 54 U.S. children.

While raising awareness is always a priority, it may never be more important than it is right now.

The pandemic has cost us so much including what experts believe are many missed diagnoses of autism at a young age. Trusted experts are now trying to change that.

It’s a new bilingual awareness campaign from Autism Speaks & The Ad Council.

Woman says, “The sooner you recognize the signs of autism, the sooner you can make a lifetime of difference for your child.”

But the pandemic put many wellness visits on hold preventing an unknown number of autism diagnoses.

Dr. Pamela Dixon, Director of Clinical Services & Inclusion for Autism Speaks says, “Intervention can make a huge difference in a person’s life for them being able to develop speech, to communicate their needs.”

Signs of autism can appear in the first year to 18 months of life.

Nina DeiTos Zanon, Executive Director of Wyoming Valley Children’s Association says, “Usually parents or pediatricians will start to see warning signs that a child isn’t achieving developmental milestones as they should.”

Wyoming Valley Children’s Association‘s clinic called Childhood Autism Team Check or CATCH has been evaluating children from Luzerne and Wyoming Counties since 2007. It’s helped accelerate autism diagnoses when the average age of a diagnosis in the U.S. is 4 years and 3 months and even later in minority and low-income communities.

Much is at stake if a diagnosis is delayed.

“If they’re not eligible for early intervention and they don’t have what’s called an individualized education plan which can give them physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, then they’re not achieving those services that they could be getting,” said Zanon.

Which brings us back to the latest campaign to raise autism awareness and let families know that help is available.

“We’re really hoping to access families who, you know, may not readily available or have services readily available to them,” said Dr. Dixon.

Among the resources available to families is a two-minute online screening tool for autism.

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