Autism affects people of all ethnicities and socio-economic statuses. And in the culturally diverse neighborhoods of Southern Brooklyn, it’s essential for parents to be able to detect symptoms early in a child’s life.
At NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island, early diagnosis for autism is a number one priority. In the general pediatric clinic, well-child visits between the ages of 16-30 months include a validated questionnaire called the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), a tool to diagnose autistic symptoms. If needed, the patient is then referred to Dr. Serafin Sales for a comprehensive developmental evaluation.
Dr. Sales is board certified in pediatrics and developmental-behavioral pediatrics, with 20 years of experience treating developmental delays, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and autism—which includes a spectrum of behavioral abnormalities that fall under the umbrella-term autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some symptoms of ASD, said Dr. Sales, include “deficits in social reciprocity and proper body language; minimal eye contact; difficulty understanding non-verbal communication and difficulty adjusting behavior to different social contexts.”
Dr. Sales recommends sensitive treatment methods tailored to each child’s individual needs. For example, speech therapy or nonverbal augmentative communication, like picture exchange systems. On a case-by-case basis, he may also recommend behavioral intervention such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), or occupational therapy for children who express sensory modality issues like hypo- or hyper-activity. For every treatment path, Dr. Sales is committed to continual engagement. “Whenever I refer the patient to early intervention or special education, I make sure to call them for a follow-up to make sure they’re improving in their social, cognitive, and language functioning.”
In addition to communication with the child, Dr. Sales also helps parents understand the nuances of each diagnosis and treatment plan. He speaks three different languages and works with English-speaking, bilingual, and trilingual families. While ASD may be hard for some parents and caregivers to initially accept, he believes that it’s essential to stay educated and take a proactive approach to treatment.
Dr. Sales strongly believes that every child has the capacity for growth. “What I find really rewarding,” he said, “is to be able to see the children progress and be able to be an important part of society.”
Here are the 3 most important tips when caring for children with autism spectrum disorder:
- Early diagnosis is the most important step in childhood ASD. The earlier the child is diagnosed, the more potential for early intervention and progress.
- Regular evaluation is a key to awareness and treatment for ASD. Symptoms may change over time, and every child responds differently to any given treatment plan. It’s important to tailor services according to the child’s progress.
- Parents and caregivers are the most important people in a child’s life, and must be proactive about treatment. But parents need support too, and they should continue to ask their pediatricians questions to address every concern that arises.