Le Bonheur neurologist Dr. Tanjala Gipson recently held a Facebook Live Q&A addressing aggression in autism. She was joined with one of her patient families – the Hamiltons – who spoke to their experience navigating son Terrence’s Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC)-related autism. Dr. Gipson treats Terrence in our TSC-Associated Neuropsychiatric Disorders (TAND) Clinic. In addition to taking live questions during the broadcast, the panel discussed the journey with autism and seizures and tactics for calming aggressive behavior. Here are some of the questions that they answered during their Facebook Live session.

Question: At what age do autism symptoms start to show in children?

(Dr. Gipson) Answer: There are studies that show that symptoms of autism can be identified as early as the first year of life. Typically, however, people may not be diagnosed until age three or four. However, if at any point a parent or a professional believes that there is something concerning about the child’s development, it’s good to get an evaluation.

Question: What is your advice for parents with a new autism diagnosis?

(Mrs. Hamilton) Answer: Never give up, never lose faith, and never lose hope. Always ask for help because we can’t do it all by ourselves. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself so that you can take care of your family and their needs.

(Mr. Hamilton) Continue with therapy and with different strategies that you can do at home. It’s always hard but just never give up. There is hope in autism.

Question: How can I find out if my child’s autism is genetic?

(Dr. Gipson) Answer: Le Bonheur has guidelines in place for children who have developmental delays. We start with basic genetic testing, which is a blood test to look at all chromosomes. There is also “Fragile X” testing, which looks at the x chromosome to see if there are any changes or mutations. If either of those tests comes up positive, then we do blood testing for parents as well.   

Question: What are some strategies you use to help deescalate Terrence’s aggressive behavior?

(Mrs. Hamilton) Answer: We’ve learned to let Terrence calm down at his pace. We make sure that he’s safe and give him time to express his feelings and not hide them. We have taught him how to calm himself down doing deep breathing with him. We breathe in together and we breathe out together. We also teach him how to express his feelings and say “I feel mad” or “I feel nervous.” Sometimes he will shut down, so we use what we call his “Batman flags,” so he can raise up his flags when he feels anxious or nervous.

Question: What are the challenges associated with childcare for autism and how do you handle this?

(Mrs. Hamilton) Answer: The priority is to make sure that Terrence is safe so we start with family first and educate family about Terrence’s needs. We leave him with family in small increments of time until we feel comfortable and our family members feel comfortable. A good caregiver is very patient, has a knowledge of autism and is comfortable working with someone with autism.

Question: What types of therapy are available for Autism?

(Mrs. Hamilton) Answer:  Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy helps autistic children with focusing and keeping attention. It teaches the child how to be more engaging, increase eye contact and ask for help. A primary focus is communication – teaching the autistic child to use words to communicate and show or verbally express feelings rather than acting out physically.

Want to learn more? Watch the full interview below.