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Web site shows videos of autistic, normal behavior
Site serves as guide for worried parents

CHICAGO - What's so unusual about a baby fascinated with spinning a cup, or a toddler flapping his hands, or a preschooler walking on her toes?

Parents and even doctors sometimes miss these red flags for autism, but a new online video 'glossary' makes them startlingly clear.

A new Web site offers dozens of video clips of autistic kids contrasted with unaffected children's behavior. Some of the side-by-side differences can make you gasp. Others are more subtle.

The free site, debuting Monday, also defines and depicts 'stimming,' 'echolalia' and other confusing-sounding terms that describe autistic behavior. Stimming refers to repetitive, self-stimulating or soothing behavior including hand-flapping and rocking that autistic children sometimes do in reaction to light, sounds or excitement. Echolalia is echoing or repeating someone else's words or phrases, sometimes out of context.

The new site is sponsored by two nonprofit advocacy groups: Autism Speaks and First Signs. They hope the site will promote early diagnosis and treatment, which can help young children with autism lead more normal lives.

Pediatrician Dr. Michael Wasserman cautioned that the site might lead some parents to needlessly fret about normal behavior variations, and said they shouldn't use it to try to diagnose their own kids.

'Just as there's a spectrum in autism... there's a spectrum in normal development,' said Wasserman, with Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. 'Children don't necessarily develop in a straight line.'

But Amy Wetherby, a Florida State University professor of communications disorders who helped create the site, noted that sometimes 'parents are the first to be concerned and the doctors aren't necessarily worried. This will help give them terms to take to the doctor and say, 'I'm worried about it.'

And while the children shown in the 'Red Flags' video clips on the site have been diagnosed with some form of autism, the sponsors note that not all children who behave this way have something wrong. In fact, the behaviors in some of the short video clips - when viewed individually - look fairly normal.

The important thing is to seek medical help if a child does exhibit persistent unusual behavior, to either rule out autism or get an early diagnosis, said Alison Singer of Autism Speaks.

Added Wetherby, 'We now know that one out of 150 children has autism, or one out of 94 boys. It's not a rare disability. We also know that early intervention is critical.'

The site was to be available to the public starting Monday on the Autism Speaks Web site www.autismspeaks.org.