Picture of a BabyThis month we are pleased to introduce Elaine Gabovitch, a respected professional in the field of disabilities. Elaine has many titles; State team leader, Faculty Member, and Director to name a few. Yet this month, she shares a personal view from one of her most important roles in life, parent of a child with autism.

It’s personal

Every year in April, people who care about autism observe and even celebrate Autism Awareness Month. One thing I personally celebrate is how far we’ve come in identifying autism spectrum disorders in young children.

It was 18 years ago when early identification became vitally important for our son. Back then, I didn’t know a thing about autism, but I knew our son wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones on time. When we shared our concerns with his pediatrician, he advised us to “wait and see.”

Instead, I self-referred to Early Intervention who evaluated my son and sent us to specialists. Soon he received a diagnosis, Early Identification services started, and our long trip forward began. Over time, I met other parents whose pediatricians also reassured them to “wait and see.”

It was a growing problem in need of a solution.

That was back in the 90’s, and while early identification has come a long way since then, it still has a long way to go with heightened public awareness.

It’s Prevalent

Only last year, the CDC estimated that every one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder. That’s one in every 54 boys and one in every 252 girls. This past month, a parent telephone survey study reported one in 50 children may be diagnosed on the spectrum.

That’s 2% of all children!

It’s Urgent

Early intervention works. The earlier the screening, the better the results for children and families. But for children who have families from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds, real disparities exist. We can and must do better.

By teaching all families about healthy developmental milestones and what to do when concerned, we can do better. And by training all pediatric clinicians about screening, we can change the conversation from “let’s wait and see,” to “let’s do a routine screen,” leveling the playing field for all children.

It’s Treatable

Take it from me, autism spectrum disorders are treatable. Over the years I have met many children with autism and their families and each has a different story to tell. Early intervention was a crucial part of those stories, as it helped beyond what those families could possibly have imagined at the time of diagnosis.

Identification is the key to getting help. Let’s build awareness here in Massachusetts by getting everyone on board through education, participation and identification.

Over the month of April, we’ll hear from other members of the Massachusetts Act Early state team about why early identification is important to them too.

About the authorElaine Gabovitch

Elaine Gabovitch, MPA is the Director of Family & Community Partnerships for the UMass Medical School-Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, family faculty in the Shriver Center’s LEND program, and an instructor in the UMMS Department of Family Medicine & Community Health. She currently serves as state team leader for the Massachusetts Act Early program and as one of 25 national ambassadors appointed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” public health program in Massachusetts. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Act Early Web Site

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