Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Autism: Baby Tracking Products and a DIY Autism Screening

Tracking your baby's developmental progress or 'stats' is the next new thing to hit the US and along with that comes the inevitable collection of 'products' that can help you do this.

Can I just say at this point that good parenting is not about 'products'. It's about loving, nurturing, supporting and being involved and a positive force, in the child's day to day development.

Ok, I'm sorry. I just had to add that in, and now back to our story. We were talking about the number of baby tracking products, available to new parents and I am particularly interested in one that claims to address Autism.

Some baby-tracking products do more than track kids’ schedules or how they play with toys: One new device assesses language ability and calculates risk of autism and developmental delay.

The digital recorder was developed by the nonprofit LENA Foundation as an autism research tool. Now, for about $200, parents can buy their own LENA Language and Autism Screen.

After recording at least 12 hours of speech, parents mail the device and some questionnaires about their kid’s behaviour to LENA, and get a full report back of their child’s language ability, including an autism risk score and a calculation of developmental age.

“A lot of times parents may suspect something is wrong,” said LENA spokeswoman Mia Moe. “But there aren’t a lot of great automatic screening tools that they have access to.”

Parents can bring up concerns at their child’s yearly checkup, Moe says, but 15 minutes with a pediatrician is often inadequate to diagnose a problem or get a referral to a specialist.

“A lot of times they say, ‘Let’s just wait and see,’ and then children end up getting these diagnoses at age 5 or even later,” Moe said. But early intervention programs can be very effective, so it makes sense for parents to want to detect problems early.

But not everyone thinks home screening is the answer. Although devices like LENA can be very useful for research or professional assessment, marketing the tools to parents isn’t appropriate, says University of Rochester developmental psychologist Lucia French.

“Certainly, keep an eye on your kid and make sure they’re doing better in everything today than they were yesterday,” French said. “But to do a formal screening and then worry that your child isn’t quite normal yet, that’s going way too far for parents’ knowledge level.”

We’ve been very succesful in convincing parents that the early years of a child are critical to long-term brain development. Unfortunately, it has also created a marketing wave that preys on the parent’s vulnerabilities and concerns.

If anyone out there has any experience of these devices, can you please let me know your opinion of them. Did they work for you? Were they easy to use? What was good or bad about them?

I suggest that parents have a good healthy toybox with a reasonable variety of toys. Electronic toys aside, don't forget; wooden blocks, rubber balls, dressing-up toys, even a piece of paper and crayons are wonderful as a learning environment, when sprinkled with the tender loving care of a parent's attention.

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