Know the signs

CDC encourages parents to look for early warnings of autism and other developmental disabilities

CDC encourages parents to look for early warnings of autism and other developmental disabilities

April 25, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

By the time Joe Kowalski was 18 months old his favorite word was duck.

"All the time he would say it. Anytime he saw a duck at the Norfolk, Va., zoo, 'Duck, duck, duck, duck, duck' and it was an adorable thing and then the next thing was he didn't want to or couldn't say it anymore," recalls Joe's mother, Carol Kowalski.

Kowalski mentioned Joe's speech to a Virginia doctor during his checkup at age 2, and they agreed to wait six months to see if it improved.

Instead, Joe began jumping up and down on his tiptoes, flapping his hands and running back and forth when he was tired or bored to stimulate himself and get extra energy, said Kowalski, who moved to Hagerstown in August 2004.


Kowalski later would learn this was called stimming or self-stimulating behavior that is characteristic of autism. Joe, now 3, was diagnosed with regressive autism in October 2004.

An estimated 17 percent of children ages 18 and younger in the United States have developmental or behavioral disabilities, said Courtney Bolen, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Up to or as many as 1 in 166 children have autism spectrum disorder, an umbrella term encompassing different types of autism, Bolen said.

The CDC is trying to help parents learn early signs of developmental disabilities such as autism, attention deficit disorder, mental retardation and delayed development of language and speech, Bolen said.

The CDC is targeting parents of children 3 years and younger because early diagnosis is important so intervention or therapy can begin, Bolen said.

"You want every child to live to their full potential," Bolen said.

Sometimes early intervention can lead to complete recovery, but not always, Bolen said.

The CDC is making available to parents, for free, lists of developmental milestones a child usually achieves by certain ages.

To get a free parent kit with lists of developmental milestones, call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit on the Web.

CDC officials don't want parents to worry if their child hasn't met each milestone on time, but also don't want them to just wait and see, Bolen said.

A child's primary doctor might suggest the "wait and see" approach, but Bolen said parents who are not comfortable with waiting should contact a pediatrician or developmental pediatrician for another opinion.

Dr. Prafull Dav, a child neurologist with offices in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., said, generally, autistic symptoms do not appear before the first birthday. Or the symptoms can be difficult to detect unless there is a major delay, such as a child who cannot make eye contact, smile or sit up by 1 year of age.

Autism is more common in boys, Dav said. Girls who show developmental delays in language similar to autism, around 18 months to 2 years of age, might have Rett syndrome, he said.

A noticeable effect of Rett syndrome is the slowing of the rate of head growth, according to the International Rett Syndrome Association at on the Web.

Dav cautioned that the time periods for achieving a developmental milestone are not rigid, but there is a cutoff. If a child cannot talk by 3, that's not normal, he said.

For information about a Washington County chapter of the Autism Society of America, call Lois Noland at 240-420-3692 or Carol Kowalski at 301-733-1470. You can visit the group's Yahoo message board at on the Web.

In the know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests parents alert their child's doctor or nurse if a child displays any of the following signs of possible developmental delay for the noted age range.

For the complete list, go to on the Web.


· Does not follow moving objects with eyes by 2 to 3 months

· Does not grasp and hold objects


· Seems very stiff, with tight muscles

· Seems very floppy, like a rag doll


· Drags one side of body while crawling (for more than one month)

· Says no recognizable words


· Fails to develop a mature heel-toe walking pattern after several months of walking, or walks only on his toes

· Does not use two-word sentences

Three year-olds:

· Persistent drooling or very unclear speech

· Cannot build a tower of more than four blocks

· No involvement in "pretend" play

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