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The statistic is staggering: 1 out of every 88 children is being diagnosed with autism, which means more than one million children in the United States are currently affected by the disorder. The medical costs for families who have a child with autism are astronomical, and in the United States, $126 billion are spent annually on treatments.

What is autism?
Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are terms used to categorize a group of brain development disorders. These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Although some who struggle with autism may exhibit intellectual disabilities, some excel in specific areas – such as art, music or math – and can find pride in their unique world view. Other difficulties, such as poor motor coordination and physical health issues, sometimes accompany the disorder.

As a parent, what do I need to do?
There is no cure for autism, and there is no genetic indicator of the disorder. Instead, autism is diagnosed by medical health specialists through evaluations. Though much is still unknown about the disorder, including its cause, its roots are believed to be formed in the very early stages of development. Thus, the most effective therapies are thought to be held during toddler years, making early identification of the disorder imperative to a strategy of early intervention.

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to educate yourself on the developmental milestones your child should be reaching. If you develop a concern about your child’s development, speak to your doctor about screening your child specifically for autism. Also, you should have your child screened during wellness visits (until at least 36 months) using a developmental screening tool even if you haven’t witnessed any red flags.

If your physician is dismissing your concerns, ask him what screening tool he is using. With a little research you may find his standard to be outdated. Seek a second opinion and ask for a referral to a specialist if your concerns are not taken seriously.

After the Diagnosis
There is no magic pill for autism, although medicines are sometimes necessary, especially if the child has associated medical conditions. Parents of autistic children work closely with a wide range of medical, behavioral and educational specialists over a number of years to guide maturation and development. However, it is very rare that a child will ever grow out of his or her ASD.

A lifelong disorder like ASD demands a medical alliance between the patient, his caregiver and a multi-disciplinary team of physicians and therapists.

In recent years, legislation has been passed in many states requiring at least partial coverage of the costs associated with autism. However, there are still states in which families must struggle to cover costs out-of-pocket or must battle insurance companies to cover necessary treatments. Those who oppose extended coverage of autism are concerned with the overall rise in premiums that would follow such an extension. To learn more about insurance coverage laws across the nation, visit the National Conference of State Legislature.

Susan is a freelance blogger who enjoys writing about automotive and health news, technology, lifestyle and personal finance. She often researches and writes about automobile, property and health insurance, helping consumers find the best insurance quotes and protection available. Susan welcomes comments.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who are concerned they have a child on the autism spectrum.

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