Signs, Myths of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism_baby_smallerAutism Spectrum Disorder remains a mysterious but prevalent disorder that now is believed to affect one in 88 children and one in 54 boys in the United States. It’s also the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the country.

There is no medical detection or cure for autism. However, learning as much as possible about the condition helps families understand and better assist their child with autism, says Dr. Joseph H. Donnelly, a CHOC neurologist and the medical director of The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

“The most obvious signs of autism emerge between 12 and 18 months of age,” says Dr. Donnelly.

Here are some signs that may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months of age or older
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

Parents of children showing these symptoms should ask their pediatrician for an immediate evaluation, advises Dr. Donnelly.

It’s a myth that children with autism lack strengths, says Dr. Donnelly. In fact, people with autism can have significant strengths and sometimes perform better, or are more capable, in certain areas than typical children.

“Never assume a child cannot do something. Try everything and discover a child’s strengths, weaknesses and learning style.” he says. “Children with autism can have learning disabilities like a typical child and this needs to be addressed the same way as with any child.”

Here are some other common myths about autism:

  • All children with autism don’t speak.
  • Children with autism all have an intellectual disability.
  • Autism is an emotional disorder.
  • People with autism don’t exhibit emotions.
  • People with autism can’t lead a meaningful life.

Common medical problems associated with autism include seizures, gastrointestinal problems, allergies and sleep difficulties, Dr. Donnelly says. Autism is often associated with varied behavioral problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

“Treatment is available.  Seek help from your pediatrician or someone with expertise in autism,” advises Dr. Donnelly.

Related articles:

Kids and Concussions: Learn How to Play it Safe


“The word concussion comes from the Latin word to shake violently. It’s a force that causes a temporary injury to the brain or spinal cord,” says Dr. Taraman. “A lot of times, people may hit their head and don’t realize it was
a concussion.”

Signs of concussion may include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness


If a child is injured during a sports practice, parents and coaches should make sure the young athlete stops playing. “The child needs to avoid any further hits, jolts, shakes or bumps to the head or spine,” says Dr. Taraman. “Make sure they don’t go back [in the game] and get a second hit. Not only is it unsafe, it’s going to make the recovery take longer and affect the child.”


“The vast majority of concussions will resolve themselves and heal relatively well,” says Dr. Taraman. After being diagnosed, parents should follow the Graduated Return to Learn & Play Guidelines advised by their doctor. This includes “slowly ramping up from a total rest period of 24 to 48 hours not visiting social media, texting, etc so the brain can heal,” says Dr. Taraman.

The guidelines include five stages of activity levels, such as:

  • No physical activity
  • Sports-specific exercise
  • Non-contact training drills


  • How many hours should a child rest after an on-field head injury: 24-48
  • What is the number of sports-related concussions that occur every year in the U.S.: 30,000
  • What is the percentage of sports-related concussions involving children between the ages of 8 and 13: 40%

View the full feature on Kids and Concussions

Dr. Sharief Taraman
Dr. Sharief Taraman
CHOC Neuroscience Institute


Dr. Taraman is a pediatric neurologist and assistant professor at University of California, Irvine. He specializes in concussion management.

Dr. Taraman’s philosophy of care: “I love pediatrics. My daughter was born my first day of medical school. I try to help parents understand the balance of the risks and benefits of participating in sports.”

Wayne State University School of Medicine
University of Michigan (B.S., Biochemistry)

Neurology with special qualifications in child neurology

More about Dr. Taraman | More about the CHOC Neuroscience Institute

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on September 30, 2013 and was written by Shaleek Wilson.

Kids and Headaches

girl_headacheWHAT IS A HEADACHE?

A headache is pain or discomfort in the head or face area. It can be acute (sudden) or chronic (recurrent). “For a child with an acute headache, you want to make sure there are no other problems that need to be addressed, such as an infection,” says Fernandez. If a child has chronic headaches, but their neurological (nervous system) exams are normal, migraines may be the problem.


Although there are no blood tests to determine if a child has a migraine, family history usually helps physicians pinpoint the diagnosis. Migraines can be brought on by food triggers, such as chocolate, cheeses and foods with preservatives such as nitrates. Nitrates can be found in favorite childhood foods including hot dogs and bologna, says Fernandez. Environmental elements including glare and sun exposure can also set them in motion. So how can you tell if your child has a migraine? Pay attention to these common symptoms:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Facial pallor (paleness) during headache
  • Relief of headache pain with sleep


Responding quickly is key to treating headaches and migraines. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen should be taken right away. “If you wait too long, nothing is going to help,” says Dr. Fernandez. Letting your child rest in a dark room or applying cold compresses are other ways parents can help ease the pain.

How can children practice proper headache hygiene?

Establishing good habits can help keep headaches at bay. These headache hygiene measures can help:

  • Regulate your child’s sleep
  • Find ways to help them cope with stress
  • Avoid triggers
  • Eat nutritious meals consistently
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of fluid per day for adequate fluid intake
  • Exercise at least 5 times per week for 30 minutes or more. This can help with stress and depression as well.


  • When tension headaches occur most often: 9-12 Years Old
  • When migraines may start: 5-8 Years Old
  • When cluster headaches usually start: 10 Years Old

View the full feature on Kids and Headaches

Dr. Amanda N. Fernandez
Dr. Amanda N. Fernandez
CHOC Neuroscience Institute


Dr. Fernandez completed her pediatric residency at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY and her fellowship in Pediatric Neurology at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, American Epilepsy Society and the Child Neurology Society.

Dr. Fernandez’s philosophy of care: “My philosophy is family-centered; looking at the child’s whole picture of health. It’s not just treating the pain or headache, but understanding the other psycho-social reasons for their pain.”

University of the East, Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Philippines

Pediatrics and Child Neurology

More about Dr. Fernandez | More about the CHOC Neuroscience Institute

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on September 9, 2013 and was written by Shaleek Wilson.

Celebrate Doctor’s Day

In honor of Doctor’s Day, we will be highlighting CHOC Children’s doctors throughout the month of March. Please see the video below with Dr. Sharief Taraman, pediatric neurologist at CHOC, who shares with us why he decided to enter the field of pediatrics.

Thank you to Dr. Taraman, and all of our CHOC doctors for your dedication and commitment to the patients and families we serve!

Related content:

  • Thank You CHOC Doctors!
    The nation will formally recognize physicians on Doctors’ Day later this month – March 30, to be exact – but not a day has gone by in the last 50 ...
  • Celebrate Doctor’s Day – Dr. Michael Muhonen
    In honor of Doctor’s Day – March 30th –  we’ve been highlighting some of our doctors throughout the month of March! Check out this video with Dr. Muhonen, Medical Director of the ...
  • Celebrate Doctor’s Day – Dr. Gary Goodman
    In honor of Doctor’s Day, we’re highlighting CHOC Children’s doctors throughout the month of March. Check out Dr. Gary Goodman, Medical Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at CHOC Children’s at ...

Orange County Mom Goes Grassroots


Marnie Sugden first heard about the Guilds of CHOC during one of her daughter’s regular appointments at the hospital.  The Glass slipper Guild is a passionate and dedicated group of local women from coastal orange county— who work together to support CHOC children’s by raising awareness, and funds, in their community.

To Marnie, it sounded like a great way to give  back. she joined the Glass slipper Guild in 2008  and quickly went to work. now a Glass slipper Guild Board Member, Marnie has chaired the  annual gala—the Guild’s largest fundraiser.

“As CHOC parents, we have the privilege of seeing first-hand the heroic work the doctors  and everyone at CHOC does for its patients.”

For more information or to join a CHOC Guild, visit

Related articles: