Pediatricians are the first line of defense against childhood conditions that have lifelong effects. Traditionally, that has included the Denver Developmental Exam, frequent doctor visits in the first few years, and vaccinations to prevent childhood diseases.
There is an epidemic of childhood conditions that include ADHD and ASD, conflicting opinions notwithstanding. That means that pediatricians ‘stand at the door’, and are responsible for prevention and treatment, no matter how much they resist this reality.
Stay up to date on pertinent literature. As the HIV epidemic began to emerge, medical science experienced a quantum leap in our knowledge about the immune system. Similarly, the increasing volume of parents who are concerned about their children’s delayed speech, lack of focus, and hyperactivity, demands more research and knowledge and less kindly reassurance, which is based on the experience of the previous century.
Carry a high index of suspicion. Five or ten minutes spent with a parent and child is not enough time to perform a thorough physical examination and elicit pertinent clinical information. The visit should include a documented nutritional summary.
Make a presumptive (if not definitive) diagnosis. Parents need information, and the child’s pediatrician is the expert. It’s fairly simple – delay in communication, repetitive behaviors and lack of socialization demand an explanation and exploration. Loss of language, lack of eye contact, and poor tone are red flags to be explored, not ignored.
Do a proper workup. At least check the blood count, thyroid, liver and kidney function. What is over-kill about exploring vitamin and mineral deficiencies in a picky eater? Then, the doctor could evaluate whether appropriate intervention makes a difference in the signs and symptoms that concern parents.
Make appropriate consultations as early as possible. In a recent UC Davis study, six of seven high-risk children who received therapy alone lost the presumptive diagnosis. Parents will be more upset with the pediatrician who says, “Let’s wait,” and improvement does not occur, than one who advises, “Let’s err on the side of caution,” even if symptoms could have abated without intervention.
Advise parents to try the gluten free – casein free diet for a few months. What is there to be afraid of? Uneasiness about creating a nutritional deficiency can be easily checked with laboratory evaluation and documentation of proper growth.
Perform an appropriate evaluation for associated signs and symptoms. Explore the cause of frequent infections, rather than responding with the knee-jerk reaction of prescribing antibiotics. Miralax® should only be given for brief periods and for occasional constipation, and isn’t even approved in children. GERD that is treated with antacid preparations can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Steroids may reduce skin rashes, but do not address to the root cause.
When a child has the diagnosis of ASD, the doctor should explore safety issues. Elopement is not uncommon, so family plans should be devised. Although learning to swim is no insurance against a tragedy, acquiring that skill helps provide some peace of mind. Incongruous laws notwithstanding, discussing gun security is a must.
Provide parents with a reading list. TheAutismDoctor.com is a good start, where discussions are presented to address the polarized world of autism diagnosis and treatment. When possible, the essays have hyperlinks to the original research. The Newsworthy tab includes the most recent and pertinent literature.
Become knowledgeable about the variety of protocols. The doctor who has read the literature (both pro and con) about alternative treatments is the only one qualified to give advice. Practitioners who assert, “I’m not aware of this or that treatment,” may be highlighting their ignorance, rather than providing up-to-date info. Therefore, unless the pediatrician knows about a therapy, the patient will surf the ‘net, and listen to the professional who does.