Early Autism Detection: What Do Parents Need to Know?

Most doctors believe that autism can’t be detected until around age two and a half or three when the obvious withdrawn or delayed symptoms are visible. However, researchers and experts are beginning to observe symptoms at an earlier age, and possibly even as early as six months of age. Autism expert and co-founder of the Brain Balance Achievement Centers, Dr. Robert Melillo, believes there is much that can be done to stop and correct the problem when spotted at an earlier age.

Researchers have found developmental milestones to be very critical to neurological disorders. “Milestones signal that the brain is developing normally. If an infant or toddler is having a problem with motor progression, then they most likely are developing other issues, including digestion problems and immune and hormone imbalances,” says Dr. Melillo. “The best and earliest way to spot if something might be amiss is by tracking your baby’s primitive reflexes.”

As the basic necessities a newborn needs for survival, primitive reflexes give babies the instinct to breathe, feed when hungry, and squirm and cry when uncomfortable. They pave the way for early development and milestones, including rolling over at three to five months. Primitive reflexes develop in the womb and if they are faulty may result in a difficult birth, in such cases, an early brain imbalance may be present.

In babies, muscle movement prompts genes to build the brain and grow the neurons and connections that advance a newborn from one milestone to the next. The new connections inhibit primitive reflexes and set the stage for more complex movements.

“If a child doesn’t stimulate genes to build the brain, primitive reflexes remain and the brain doesn’t develop in an orderly fashion,” continues Dr. Melillo. “Children cannot leapfrog milestones, it results in the missed construction of an important skill and you can’t activate it later on.” According to Dr. Melillo, depending on how the imbalance unfolds – if step after step is missed – it could result in autism or any other neurological condition.

In his newly available book Autism: The Scientific Truth About Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders and What Parents Can Do Now, Dr. Melillo discusses ways for parents to test for primitive reflexes in babies and how to monitor to make sure development is on track.

Resources for Parents from Jennifer Holt

To go along with Jennifer Holt’s article on being a social butterfly in the January issue, here are some extra resources for parents.



Encouragement for the Weary by Jennifer Holt

Parenting a special needs child is one of the most daunting and rewarding tasks a parent could ever be asked to do. Many evenings I have found myself lying in the dark, crying out to God and begging Him to heal my son’s autism. I have also spent many nights worrying about Sam’s future, clinging to God’s promises to prosper him and not to harm him (Jer. 29:11-13).

When my husband I attended our first orientation session about this overwhelming disorder, the speaker began the presentation by saying, “Go ahead and mourn the child you have lost.” She proceeded to outline the seven steps of grief, the same steps people experience when a loved one dies. We realized in that moment that the speaker did not have the hope that we have. She obviously does not know the One, True, Living God.

Grand Canyon

As parents of a child with autism, we often feel like we are standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, with no bridge to help us walk across that chasm. Jesus Christ is that bridge. He offers hope, encouragement, wisdom, and rest. My God is bigger than autism, bigger than special needs of any kind, and ready and willing to help. God has a perfect plan for my son, and for every person He creates.

Before Sam was formed in my womb, the Lord knew he would have autism. I look forward to seeing how God uses this thorn in Sam’s side to bring glory to Him.

Here are a few special promises that encourage me to stay strong in the Lord:

  • “Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, fenced in and hidden, which you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3 (AMP)
  • “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5 (HCSB)
  • “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (HCSB)
  • “That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:28 (MSG)
  • “Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord.” Psalm 27:14 (AMP)

Jennifer J. Holt and her husband, Brian, are walking through each day, casting their cares on the Lord, and praying for strength and wisdom as they raise their hilarious, musical, artistic, outdoorsy, miraculous son, Sam, who is now four years old.

Photo used with permission of Flickr Creative Commons.

Don’t miss Jennifer’s article "A Hope and a Future" in the February 2011 issue of ParentLife.