No parent wants to believe that their child has a problem. It’s natural to hope for happy, healthy, well-adjusted children who will grow up without any major difficulties. But, when it comes to children on the autism spectrum, identifying the signs of autism early in the child’s development can make a big difference.
Regardless of your child’s age at this moment, if you suspect they are somewhere on the spectrum, there is hope. Today more than ever, there are a variety of effective treatment options that can help your child grow, develop, and thrive.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a spectrum of complex neurobiological disorders with common symptoms that are most often characterized by difficulty communicating and relating socially to others, and an obsessive need to engage in repetitive behaviors or language. Symptoms of ASD show up in infancy and very early childhood and might include avoiding eye contact, delayed speech or not speaking at all, not responding to his or her name, and restricted interests.
It’s important to understand that there are a wide variety of symptoms for children who fall somewhere on the spectrum. Symptoms that are easy to spot in one child might be virtually invisible in another.
However, every child who lands somewhere on the spectrum struggles with challenges in these three areas:
1. Verbal and non-verbal communication.
2. Relating to and understanding other people and the world around them.
3. Adapting to change or dealing with unpredictability.
If you’re the parent or primary caregiver for a young child that is exhibiting behavior you feel might be indicative of autism, we encourage you to trust your instincts. As the person who spends the most time with the child, you’re in the best position to identify early warning signs. Schedule a visit with your child’s pediatrician, who will most likely recommend thorough evaluation and testing. However, sometimes even the best doctors can miss or underestimate signs and symptoms.
Remember that you know your child better than anyone else and are privy to behaviors that might not show up during a doctor visit. The key is to educate yourself as much as possible so that you have a good idea of what’s normal and what’s not. If you feel that your child is not receiving the care they need, seek a second opinion or a referral to a child development specialist.
Many people’s natural response to a parent concerned about the development of their child is to say, “Don’t worry”. Or, “I’m sure everything is fine.” After all, no one wants to believe that there is something wrong with a child. But, early intervention with children who’ve been diagnosed with autism can make a tremendous difference. If you have any concerns about whether your child is on the spectrum, don’t wait to seek evaluation.
It’s true that every child develops at a different pace. There’s no need to panic if your child is 12-months old and not walking even though your neighbor’s child walked at 10-months. “Normal” development carries a wide birth. But, if your child has not met several milestones for his or her age, or if you’re noticing other signs for concern, don’t wait. Call your pediatrician right away.
Early signs of autism in babies and toddlers.
Autism is difficult to diagnose before 24 months, but symptoms can show up as early as 12 months and early treatment can capitalize on the significant plasticity of a child’s young brain.
The earliest evidence of autism is, frustratingly, the absence of “normal” behaviors, not the presence of “abnormal” behaviors. Making it more difficult, the earliest symptoms can be interpreted as a baby just being really good because they are quiet and undemanding.
Your baby or toddler doesn’t:
1. Respond to cuddling, reach out to be picked up, or make eye contact when being fed
2. Smile when being smiled at, or mimic facial expressions
3. Respond to the sound of a familiar voice
4. Respond when you call their name
5. Seem interested in play or games
6. Follow gestures or look at an object when you point to it
7. Attempt to use gestures to communicate or make noise to get people’s attention
Occasionally, a child with ASD will seem to develop communication skills normally and then regress. Regression generally happens between 12 and 24 months. For example, a child who waved goodbye when someone left the room might stop communicating entirely, with gestures or otherwise.
Signs and Symptoms in older children.
As children grow, signs of autism become much more diverse, but typically revolve around a lack of social and communication skills and particularly inflexible behavior.
1. Seems unusually sensitive to sound, smells, textures, and bright, colorful, or moving objects
2. Are unresponsive when people leave or enter the room they are in, seems oblivious when others try to get their attention, and generally appear disinterested in what’s going on around them
3. Avoids eye contact
4. Doesn’t seem to understand the context of language – humor, irony, and sarcasm – and takes what is said literally
5. Exhibits facial expressions that don’t align with their words or tone of voice.
6. Doesn’t seem to understand that other people’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures are communicating something
7. Has difficulty picking up on nonverbal cues
8. Repeats the same words or phrases over and over, getting stuck on the words, not the meaning
9. Responds to a question by repeating the question
10. Uses language incorrectly (grammatical errors, wrong words) or refers to him or herself in the third person
11. Has difficulty communicating needs or desires
12. Does not to like to be touched, held, or hugged
13. Insists on following rigid daily routines
14. Does not adjust to changes in their normal schedule or inconsistencies in their environment
15. Seems to form deep attachments to toys or objects but not with people
16. Obsessively places objects in a row, sorts them, or arranges them in a certain order
17. Repeats the same behavior over and over, such as rocking, twirling, or flapping their hands.
What to do if you’re concerned that your child might have autism
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, or if your child is developmentally delayed, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. The diagnostic process is sometimes long and can be difficult. But, if your child is diagnosed with autism, it’s important to engage in treatment as soon as possible.
If you’d like to talk with one of our therapists or technicians, contact us today. We welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.