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Dr. Adiaha I. A. Spinks-Franklin, MD is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician in the Meyer Center for Developmental Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics for Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Spinks-Franklin is the Associate Fellowship Director for the Developmental-Behavioral Pediatric Fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine.

She joined the Baylor faculty in 2005. Franklin evaluates children with developmental and behavioral concerns, specializing in research that investigate health disparities in children with autism spectrum disorders, the mental health impact of adoption on children, and the cultural aspects of child development, including how racial and ethnic identity development influence academic outcomes.

Dr. Spinks-Frankin, a native Texan, is married with three sons.She has been involved in a number of pediatric healthcare projects internationally, in countries including Senegal, West Africa, Guyana, South America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Spinks-Franklin hold a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and is a graduate of Meharry Medical College School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

Why are there so many more autistic children today?

We have increased public awareness and better ways of diagnosing children. Now schools are also able to test and diagnose children with autism.

Morning TJMS, could autism be caused by our diets and all the hormones that are being put in our food?

No. Research has shown no connection between food products, preservatives or food hormones and autism.

What about prevention?

Unfortunately, we do not have any methods to prevent autism.

How can I help my child understand that another child is autistic?

There are good children’s books out there, such as “My Brother Charlie” by Holly Robinson Peete and her daughter.

Is sensory processing disorder the same as autism?

No they are not the same. “Sensory processing disorder” is not a medical diagnosis, but it refers to when a person is very sensitive to sounds, tastes, textures, etc around them. Children with autism can be very sensitive to certain sensory information such as loud sounds, strong smells, and certain food tastes and textures.

What are he clinical signs and symptoms of autism?

Poor social-communication skills (e.g., lack of eye contact, very delayed in learning to talk, repeating lines from commercials or TV shows inappropriately, not playing interactively appropriately) and unusual behaviors (e.g., doing the same thing over and again, rocking, spinning, flapping hands, lining up toys, not playing with toys correctly, getting upset when there are changes and transitions). Go to the web site for more detail.

How do you get checked for autism?

Please take the child to their primary care provider and tell the doctor you are concerned your child may have autism. There are a number of things the doctor can do during an office visit to screen for autism, including questionnaires a parent can fill out. However, do not wait. Get the child checked out immediately.

Can they out grow it?

Unfortunately no. Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disability.

 In what age is it mostly found in?

Autism is found in all age groups from infants to adults. It can be diagnosed as early as 18 months by a really good specialist (e.g., Developmental Pediatrician, Child Psychologist. Many children can be diagnosed with autism at age 2 years.

What can we do to lessen the chance of Autism in the womb?

We do not have any information on what to do to prevent autism. There is lots of ongoing research to try and figure that out.

I recently had my 3yr old tested for autism. He turned out he has ADHD,which also requires therapy.

Yes, ADHD and autism are two different diagnoses. Yes children with ADHD need academic support in school and help with their behaviors.

Is autism found in females?

Yes. Autism is 5 times more common in boys than in girls, but boys AND girls have autism.

Can you be mildly autistic? Can an adult be diagnosed or tested to see if their artistic or is it too late diagnose?

Good questions. Yes, some people have milder forms of autism, meaning that their symptoms are more subtle than others. Yes an adult can be evaluated to see whether or not they have autism by an adult mental health specialist (e.g., Psychologist, Psychiatrist) who is experienced in working with patients with autism. It is not too late.

Can a seizure cause autozone?

Seizures do not cause autism. However, children with autism can have seizures.

I would like to know where I can see this research she mentioned proving autism is not a product of vaccines. I have infallible research proving her absolutely wrong.

There are hundreds of valid, rigorous studies that can be easily accessed from PubMed, Google Scholar, and many other reputable sources. Also go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site The connection between autism and vaccines is a myth dating back to the late 90s and has been disproven many times. There are numerous children with autism worldwide who have never even had vaccines. Symptoms of autism are evident before a child starts to receive vaccines. Autism is a very complex neurodevelopmental disability and we do not yet know exactly what causes it. However, we are certain it is NOT vaccines.

Is it true that there is a higher prevalence of autism in children who parents conceived them over the age of 40?

Yes, there is some evidence to suggest that children of older mothers AND older fathers are at increased risk of developing autism

How do I receive a diagnosis for my son? He already has an IEP in place with Significant Developmental Delay as the label.

I am happy to hear your son has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) at school. You may ask the special education evaluation team to evaluate him specifically for autism.

Can one have autism and be functional?

Yes as long as the individual receives the help and interventions they need, such as behavior therapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and appropriate school services.

Will you please explain on the radio that autism and mental retardation are two different things? Please do not let the callers get that confused.

Yes, Autism and Mental Retardation (now called “Intellectual Disability”) are two different diagnoses. Autism is a problem with social skills, communication skills, and unusual behaviors. Intellectual Disability means a person is delayed in all areas of development including talking, walking, learning, thinking, socializing, and caring for themselves. Both are lifelong conditions and do not go away. Half of people with Autism also have Intellectual Disabilities as well.

What is your website. Also, what resources do you recommend? My son is autistic. I am working with him and he is receiving therapy but I want him to develop as much as possible. He is 5 years old.

Good question. I do not have a web site. Children with autism need to have school-based and community-based services, including behavior therapy (e.g., Applied Behavior Analysis), speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, social skills training, and academic interventions. The web site has helpful and reliable information.

What’s the earliest autism can be diagnosed? At 7 months, my nephew does not make eye contact.

This is a good question. Many children can be diagnosed with autism between 18 months and 2 years. It is uncommon for a child younger than 12 months to be diagnosed. However, IF YOU ARE WORRIED, take the baby to the doctor to be evaluated. His lack of eye contact could be a symptom of other developmental disabilities or medical problems as well.

What’s the earliest age to tell if child as autism?

Some children can show signs as young as 18 months old.

Dr. My friends doctor won’t diagnose him with anything. Two Doctor’s have told her he’s just a normal 3 year old boy. Yet he’s been kicked our if two daycares and my friend is paying thousands of dollars for therapy. What should she do?

I suggest having the child evaluated by a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician; the child’s primary care doctor can refer the child to that specialist.

What if you have a child that’s already in their teens that has most of the symptoms described but was never diagnosed as austistic what should u do?

You can have the teen evaluated by the school for autism or ask the teen’s primary care provider to refer him to a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician for an evaluation.

How much difference between autism and mild retardation?

Autism means a child struggles with communicating, having social skills, and has unusual behaviors. Mild Mental Retardation (Now called “Mild Intellectual Disability”) means a child’s development is delayed in all areas–motor skills, talking skills, learning, independent living skills, etc. Half of children with autism can have intellectual disabilities.

Why don’t they provide full disability benefits for children with autism?

We need good parents to advocate with their lawmakers to make this happen at the state legislature level.

What is the difference between a child with Autism and a sensory kid?

A child with autism has severe deficits in communication skills, social skills and very unusual behaviors. A child with sensory sensitivities can be sensitive to loud sounds, certain food or clothing textures, strong smells, etc. Many children with autism are sensitive to certain sensory input as well.

Hello Dr! I am a doctoral student conducting research on college students with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders ( HFASDs) can you share some of your resources/ stats on this population?

Good job! There are some good data on the web site. About 5% of adults with HFASD can live and function independently. Activities of daily living is the greatest deficits in this population along with social skills deficits, which impairs their abilities to function on a job and navigate the social milieu of the world (e.g., paying bills, using public services, etc).

My granddaughter is 18 months old and has not yet begin to talk how long should we be concern?

You are right to be concerned. Please have your granddaughter evaluated by the primary care provider. Also you can call the Early Intervention agency in your area to have her evaluated. Early Intervention is a national program in all 50 states that is designed to evaluate and provide interventions for children at risk of developmental delays from birth until age 3 years. PLEASE DO NOT WAIT.

Good morning. If you are an elementary school teacher and you suspect that one of your student might have autism what should your steps be?

Teachers are in a difficult situation because of various state educational laws. I would suggest talking to the special education director of your school about having that student evaluated. Thank you for being an observant and concerned teacher.

My 16 year old son was diagnosed with ADHD about 10 years ago. He has all of the symptoms you described on the radio. I have always felt that he either had Autism or Aspburgers Syndrome. What can I do to help my son this late in life?

He’s 10. It’s not too late. A child can have both ADHD and autism. About half of kids with Autism also have ADHD. Ask your son’s primary care provider to refer him for an evaluation by a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician in your area. It is important to have an accurate diagnosis, so you can know how best to help your child.

My son who is now 10 was diagnosed with spectrum autism when he was 7. How is that different from, I guess regular autism? Is there a difference on how to make is life more normal?

The entire diagnosis is called “Autism Spectrum Disorder”; we call it “Autism” for short. The symptoms and treatments are the same. Please make sure your child continues to receive all of the school-based services and community-based interventions he needs (e.g., speech therapy, behavior therapy, occupational therapy, social skills training).

 I have an austisc daughter what diet should we put her on if any? She’s 5.

Research has found there is no connection between diet and autism. There have been lots of research on food and autism and there is no connection. None of the diets that have been suggested (e.g., GFCF diet) have shown any improvement in autism. There is nothing that can cure or take away autism. If you think your child has food allergies, then your child should be evaluated by a Pediatric Allergy Doctor or by a Pediatric Gastroenterology Doctor.

I’ve never been pregnant. Are risks increased having an autistic child? I am 39.5.

Yes, there is research to suggest that mothers and fathers over age 30 are at a higher risk of having a child with autism. We do not fully understand why yet.

My girlfriend is having the hardest time getting her son diagnosed. He has the symptoms you just described but the doctors keep telling her it’s ADHD….he’s in the 5th grade. What should she do? She lives in Austin, TX.

There is 1 Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician in Austin, Texas at Dell Children’s Hospital. The child should be referred there for an evaluation. The child can also be evaluated by the school for autism.

Hello Dr. My son is 14 y.o. and I’m having trouble with growing up. He still watches sesame street and can tell you everything there is to know about Elmo including Kevin Clash, the man that made Elmo. But still doesn’t know his multiplication facts. He does take meds for add. Please give me some insight. I am at my wits end.

It is very possible your 14 year old son may have an intellectual disability, meaning that he thinks, acts, and functions at a much younger level than his chronological age. For example, if he is 14 years old and still enjoys doing what 3 year old children do, this may be a sign of intellectual disability. You may ask his primary care provider to refer him to a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician for a good developmental evaluation to determine what is going on.

Is there a correlation between normal childhood vaccines and autism? Is there a possibility vaccines could cause it?

No. There is NO correlation between vaccines and autism. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability and the microscopic brain changes begin in the uterus long before the child is born and way before the child receives immunizations. There is autism worldwide, even in countries without vaccines. We have 100s of studies to disprove the connection between vaccines and autism.

I have autistic son and I was wondering why it’s so hard to get any can help from Social Security even if the person has a job?

This is a good question for the social worker in your primary care doctor’s office.

What about when they want to dress up like superheros all the time and have both hands fighting each other’s?

This can be a repetitive behavior or restricted interest of the child. These are commonly found in children with autism.

My children are twins and the girl has autism the boy doesn’t. What diet should we put her on if any?

There is no diet to cure or change or improve autism. There are many rigorous and valid research studies to show there is no difference in symptoms of autism no matter what type of diet a child is on. Putting dietary restrictions on a child with autism could potentially be dangerous because most children with autism have very restricted diets anyway and will only eat certain foods. Limiting what they eat further could increase the risk of micronutrient deficits like low iron, low vitamins, etc.

Can a person be diagnosed with autism in adulthood?

Yes. An experienced adult Psychologist or adult Psychiatrist may be able to help.

My nephew seems to be autistic, but my sister never had him diagnosed. We think she’s in denial about him. He graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA, went away to college and for the first time failed two classes. He lost his scholarship and hadto come back home. He’s now 27 years old, not working, stays home and plays on his computer all day and night. They live in Stone Mountain GA. He is so smart, but more and more inside himself every year that goes by. My sister is not easy to talk to.

Do you have some advice for our family?

This is such as difficult situation and more common than you may realize. Being loving and supportive and non-judgmental is key. Arm yourselves with information about how autism manifests in adults (start with the CDC web site and how many adults with autism struggle to function independently. The goal is for this young man have a fulfilling life and be a contributing member of society. You may look for local organizations who help children with adults with different disabilities, such as The Arc of the United States ( I wish you the best.

Dr. My son has autism spectrum and he is living a “normal” life he’s 13. But my question is do you think it’s possible he will be able to drive.

Glad to hear he is doing well. He will need intensive driving instruction and coaching. Talk to his school teachers and guidance counselors about the best way to enroll him in driver’s education classes. Also talk to your states motor vehicle division to learn about resources for teens with developmental disabilities who want to drive.

I have concerns about my son. He doesn’t have great social skills, however he has been A student all of his school years. Reading on a 7th grade level in the 3rd grade . His interest is more into computers then being outside. He also doesn’t get slang, sarcasm and some jokes.So my question is are there different levels or high functioning autism. Or could he just be a nerdy kid?

Good question. There are a number of conditions where children struggle with understanding jokes and sarcasm. It is best to have him evaluated by a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician, who would be able to identify what his specific diagnoses may be. Please ask his primary care provider to refer him for the evaluation.

Is it possible to be autistic at age 15 and be an honor roll student if you’ve never diagnosed?

Yes it is. Some people have milder forms of autism and are higher functioning in general. They may appear to be a little quirky. It is important to have him evaluated by a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician in your area. Please ask his primary care provider to refer him for the evaluation.

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Get Well Wednesday: Dr. Adiaha Franklin Wants Your Children to Be Healthy Mentally and Physically  was originally published on