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New web site helps parents identify signs of autism




Spotting the signs of autism in their children may now be easier for parents with the launch of a new web based video glossary of autistic behaviours.

The glossary launched yesterday as a new addition to the Autism Speaks web site at and is backed by First Signs. Both are nonprofit advocacy groups.

The new feature offers a collection of more than a hundred video clips contrasting the behaviour of autistic children with that of healthy kids. Some of the autistic traits are subtle and require the narrator to point them out; others are immediately obvious.

Despite improvements in diagnosis in recent years, the signs of autism are still missed by parents, and even doctors. It is hoped this new tool, which is already generating huge media attention, will help people recognize hard to spot autistic behaviours. This in turn would lead to early diagnosis and treatment which is essential to giving the child the best chance of leading a more normal life.

The "Red Flags" video clips on the site depict children diagnosed with autism exhibiting behaviours such as obsessing over a toy train, being fascinated by spinning a cup, and flapping their hands repeatedly. When taken in isolation all of these might seem to be normal for a child, after all don't all kids act strangely sometimes? The video aims to help parents make the distinction between normal and autistic behaviour. It's important to have things explained and compared with the behaviour of normal children so that early signals aren't missed.

The video also shows "shimming," "echolalia" and other strange sounding behaviours typically seen in autistic children. Shimming refers to repetitive, self-stimulating or soothing behavior including hand-flapping and rocking usually in reponse to a stimulus, while Echolalia refers to the act of repeating another person's words or phrases, often out of context.

Autism Speaks asks visitors to the site to: "keep in mind that there are many presenting features associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that are depicted in the video clips."

"However, most children do not show all of the features all of the time. Instead, many children have some of the features some of the time."

Some commentators have suggested that the glossary may only serve to cause parents to panic when their child displays individual behaviours dipicted in the videos, when in fact their child is perfectly normal. However, when discussing the behaviours depicted the site makes it clear however that, "Individually, they may not indicate a problem; however, in combination, they may indicate a need to conduct a screening or a diagnostic evaluation. Not all signs and features need be present for ASD to be diagnosed."

So, if you watch the videos and notice that your child exhibits a lot of the behaviours they draw attention to, don't panic, just discuss things with your doctor and suggest that your child undergo a diagnostic evaluation.

The video glossary does require you to register before it can be accessed but it is free to all. Once registered it is very straightforward to use.

Autism Speaks, after only a few years, has become the largest autism advocacy organization after merging with the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR). THere is also a planned merger with Cure Autism Now (CAN) which was announced in November 2006. The organization funded $20m of autism research in 2006 after unprecedented fundraising efforts. As well as the web site, it also educates through video documentaries which it produces. Autism Speaks is also very active in campaigning for legislation that would increase research funding and care for those affected by autism.

First Signs, Inc was founded by Nancy Wiseman after her daughter was disgnosed with autism. This nonprofit organization, while engaging in similar activities to other advocacy groups, has a special focus on early diagnosis and intervention.


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