thought this would be the perfect time to share some information about autism since April is Autism Awareness Month.

It is estimated that one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined. That is a staggering statistic. It is estimated that tens of millions of people are affected by autism worldwide; 1.5 million in the U.S. alone. It is also estimated that the rate of autism is increasing 10 percent to 17 percent annually. The tough part is we don’t know the cause.

What is autism? Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. Parents typically start seeing signs of autistic behavior before 3 years of age. What are the "red flags?" A "red flag" is considered an "absolute indicator," meaning if a child exhibits these following behaviors, an evaluation is strongly recommended (provided by First Signs, Inc.):

• No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter.

• No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter.

• No babbling by 12 months.

• No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months.

• No words by 16 months.

• No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months.

• Any loss of speech, or babbling, or social skills at any age.

If your child exhibits any of these signs, talk to your pediatrician. He or she will be able to point you in the right direction for further evaluation.

There is some good news. There are more resources out there for families receiving a diagnosis of autism and much more support than there used to be. For example, Autism Speaks ( is a leader in funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. SAARC (Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center), located here in Phoenix, is an excellent resource for families in the Valley. Desert Valley Pediatric Therapy in Ahwatukee Foothills provides home-based and clinic-based speech, occupational and physical therapy for kids diagnosed with autism and other developmental delays. We have a new social skills summer day camp called Junior Jabberee, which is a goal-oriented program facilitated by licensed therapists. For more information on the summer day camp and resources, call us or visit our website at

• Julie A. Sorrick, M.A., CCC-SLP, is a licensed speech-language pathologist and owner of Desert Valley Pediatric Therapy in Ahwatukee Foothills. For further questions about autism, reach Sorrick at (480) 704-5954.

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