According to Autism Speaks, in the U.S., every 1 child per 30 children lives with autism. About 4 in every 100 boys and 1 per 100 girls are diagnosed every year.

But what is autism? Well, there’s not a definite answer. In fact, every case is different. Autism is a developmental disorder that impacts a person’s ability to communicate and socialize, and there’s a wide spectrum that can go from high functioning to low functioning.

Common signs include difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors, but all because your child is experiencing these issues does not always mean they’re autistic. the only way to know for sure is by first taking an evaluation.

“Early diagnosis is key so that you can start with intervention,” urged Dr. Laura Ford, a developmental behavioral pediatrician.

Dr. Ford is the only board-certified developmental behavioral pediatrician in Lawton, Oklahoma, which is a city that, according to local medical experts, has an overwhelming concern for toddlers and preschoolers pertaining to autism.

“First of all, if a child is having speech delay, they need a speech evaluation and a hearing evaluation. If they have a fine motor delay, they need an eye test because if you’re not seeing well, then that is going to be delayed. The Comanche Health Department has early intervention, and you can call the Comanche Health Department and a parent can call or a physician can call, but you do not need a diagnosis to receive early intervention,” said Ford.

Parents are encouraged to seek a formal diagnosis following early intervention, but sometimes parents may feel scared or even sometimes in denial. But the thing is you are never alone in this journey.

“Do not be so hard on yourself. This is something brand new that you just discovering or trying to figure out what’s going on and as a parent of course you love your children and you want the best for them so know that there is help out there and there are other people going through it so don’t be so hard on yourself, that’s something I had to learn,” explained Nicole Jolly, a mother and autism advocate.

Nicole is a mother to twin boys, who were born premature at 33 weeks. Her and her husband were able to bring their children home right before Christmas, and like any mother, Nicole was watching her little one’s every move.

“So, of course, you know you’re sleep deprived, and you got these little ones and you’re like what do I do? And you know you’re just doing the best you can. So, when they start to grow and develop and you have two of them, I’m noticing there is a difference, there’s a change. Probably around 12 months, I noticed that Tanner was a little bit withdrawn, wasn’t answering or responding to us when we called his name. So, there’s some things that I noticed Taylor was doing but not what Tanner was doing. So, that cued me into saying “Well, what’s going on?” Nicole recalled.

Thanks to her question, she immediately takes her son to early intervention at SoonerStart.

“With SoonerStart we got therapy in the home, which helped, and it helped me be like “Okay I’m going to be okay” because there is a lot to navigate. It’s scary, you feel like “What did I do, what did I do wrong.” You start to blame yourself; you start to get depressed. But don’t do that because it’s a lot to navigate. There are other moms and dads out there, and I’ve gotten connected with a lot of them that are going through similar situations,” said Jolly.

Nicole and Dr. Ford both agree that the earlier you take your child in for an evaluation the better you can help your child develop and navigate the world.

For those looking to get an evaluation started Ford, all you have to do is go to your provider and get a referral to schedule your appointment. Currently Dr. Ford is accepting toddlers and preschoolers.

For parents who may already have a diagnosis, there are support groups for parents to lean on one another.

“There’s nothing to fix with your child, but it’s something to help them be the best version that they can be with the resources available,” Nicole said.

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