When I first began in pediatric practice back in the early 80’s, the approach to evaluating children with developmental delays was much different than today. In general, pediatricians were much more likely to take a “wait and see” approach to children with developmental delays. We didn’t believe that it made any difference when a child began therapy and since we didn’t want to alarm parents unnecessarily we waited until we were certain that a child was showing significant delays. Over the last three decades, as the incidence of autism has steadily climbed, it has also become apparent that early identification and treatment can make a real difference. Thus, tools have been developed to aid in the early diagnosis of children with developmental delays. The American Academy of Pediatrics now has a tool kit to aid pediatricians in identifying children who need formal developmental evaluation.
Learn the Signs
From a parent’s perspective, it’s good to be educated and on the alert for early signs of delay. In his excellent work, The Autism Book, pediatrician Robert Sears describes subtle and early signs of autism. These include:
- Lack of eye contact
- Side glancing
- Focusing on spinning objects
- Lack of babbling which usually begins by six months
- Lack of words by eighteen months
- Preference to playing by himself
- Parallel play – playing next to but not interacting with others
- Lack of engagement with a new person
- Playing with toys in inappropriate ways
- Obsessive and/or repetitive movements
- Unusual sleep patterns or night waking
- Sensory problems
A child who is at risk, should have a developmental evaluation by a trained professional without delay. If a diagnosis is made, developmental therapies should be started right away.
Another area where parents need to be informed is about the link between autism and physiological imbalances in the body including the digestive tract and immune system. Many mainstream professionals are not familiar with nutritional, biomedical and alternative therapies that can be of great value for children on the spectrum. These can assist developmental therapies to work even better. While the traditional view of autism is that it is a fixed, inherited condition current evidence points to the presence of underlying physiological imbalances. These can be addressed through dietary changes, addition of key supplements and through homeopathic treatment.
In my practice, I see that children receiving constitutional homeopathic treatment make faster progress with other therapies. “Constitutional” refers to a single homeopathic medicine that is based on a child’s overall profile. One of the beauties of this way of treating is that a diagnosis is not necessary. A prescription is made based on the child’s presenting symptoms and profile. Using this approach we can begin homeopathic treatment even before a full developmental evaluation is completed. We are treating the child, not the diagnosis. Homeopathy stimulates the body to heal itself. The body has an innate wisdom about what is out of balance and what needs to heal. Homeopaths have been treating children with developmental delays for two hundred years, since before the concept of “autism” even existed. A single medicine will initiate healing at all levels – physical, mental and emotional. So for example, a child will make progress with speech and social interactions as well as, say, with digestive problems and allergies.
Parents should be encouraged that there is much that can be done to help a child with delays.