Early intervention key for children with autism

KSDK - Three-year old Luke Eckhard bounces on a mini-trampoline, while holding the hands of his autism teacher. John Eckhard believes his young son is bouncing back.

"As amazing as it is to us," Eckhard saud, "it's more amazing when friends come by who haven't seen Luke for three months."

Luke was diagnosed with autism about a year ago. He didn't interact with his five-year-old brother or his triplet sisters

"Since we had three kids in the house, all the same age, we were able to tell relatively quickly one wasn't at the same developmental rate as the others," Eckhard said.

More children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at an earlier age, two and younger. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one in 150 eight-year olds in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. As awareness has grown, parents are seeking help for children as young as a year old when they suspect their child isn't developing properly. Experts say early intervention is key to autism treatment.

After Luke's autism diagnosis, the Eckhards felt helpless.

"I have no idea what question to ask," Eckhard said.

A year ago, Luke enrolled at the Howard Park Center in Ellisville, where staff members like director of therapy services Tami Pentz have seen tremendous improvement, as if Luke's brain is being re-wired

"The most amazing thing lately is the improvement in social skills and the attempts at social communication," Pentz said. "They're seeing changes in the brains of really young children with autism to become more like that of typical children."

John Eckhard says early diagnosis of Luke's autism has made a huge difference in his son's development, like the first time Luke said the word 'daddy'.

"That first time he said it, it took my breath away," Eckhard said. "I have no idea what my son's future is going to be like, I have no idea where he's going to be in six months, a year, but because I reached out and got help, I've now seen a stare becomes a gaze, I've now heard a babble become a 'daddy' and a 'momma' and that is an amazing thing for families that have kids on the spectrum. I would say the most important thing is to reach out."

Experts say spending money on two years of early intervention can increase a child's chances of going to kindergarten with very little support. John Eckhard says his message to families with autism is that help is available, and the sooner the better.

"Just to see him be able to reach out and to make a connection with me, that now I'm able to get into his world," he said.


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