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Early Signs of Autism

by Pam Martin of "Mamapedia"
Photo by: iStock

According to Jacqueline Williams-Hines, M.Ed., autism specialist and author of a autism-awareness children’s book series, nationally, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum. experts from Healthline, point out, “The brain is developing rapidly in infancy and is more plastic, or open to change. Researchers believe that because of this, targeting infants at a young age could lessen the symptoms of autism later on.” With that in mind, what should parents concerned about the possibilities watch for in their children?

Angel Wilson, a developmental specialist with 10 years experience working with autism-affected families, says that studies show that the signs may be picked up as early as six weeks of age. Dr. Eboni Hollier, board-certified developmental and behavioral pediatrician, reminds parents that children develop at different rates, but she also says, “Certainly all children are different and develop at their own rate, but when a parent or grandparent says that his sibling or other children in the family talked significantly more at his age or played very differently with toys and other children, I always listen very closely to those concerns. Babysitters and daycare providers are often in a unique position to observe the child with peers outside of the family’s home. They too often can provide good insight as to whether a child may have developmental challenges that should be further evaluated.”

General Signs That May Indicate Developmental Delays, Including Autism

Experts agree that a lack of eye contact is a flag, and Wilson recommends mentioning it to your child’s pediatrician so that physical issues with the eyes can be ruled out. A lack of social interaction or difficulty in picking up on social cues is also a common sign of autism. A sensitivity to loud noises, certain fabrics or textures, or foods may also be present. A reaction that seems out of proportion to small changes to routines or very specific interests in certain objects, such as playing only with red toy cars may also be indicators, according to Dr. Hollier. Wilson points out that the presence of repetitive behaviors, such as rocking, spinning, or flapping hands, or a verbal fixation on specific, narrow topics are nearly always a part of an autism diagnosis.

Signs in Children Younger Than One Year

By two months, Williams-Hines suggests discussing with your pediatrician a failure to react to loud noises or to track the movement of faces. Dr. Hollier also encourages mentioning it if your six-month-old has no social smile. Other signs to watch for at six months is not reaching for offered objects, not rolling over or laughing, and not showing affection for others.

General Signs in Children One Year or Older

According to Pamela Torres, MS, CCC-SLP, CAS, who is the Director of Educational, Clinical, and Community Outreach Services for HABLA Speech Therapy, LLC, talk to your doctor if your one-year-old:

Does not respond to the sound of his name being called
Does not seek out or enjoy attention
Smiles infrequently
Is not sharing or showing objects to caregivers
Is not engaged by games such as Patty-Cake and Peek-a-boo
Is not babbling (will usually begin around 8 or 9 months)
Is not making eye contact

Morgan Statt, health and safety advocate, sees it as a red flag if, at 18 months, a child is not using gestures or pointing to overcome not being able to speak.

Williams-Hines suggests that a three-year-old not speaking in sentences, not making eye contact, and not understanding simple instructions are concerns, and that a four-year-old who resists dressing, sleeping, or using the toilet, having no interest in imaginative play or make-believe and doesn’t use “me” and “you” may be showing signs of autism to be assessed. Talk to your doctor if your five-year-old has a narrow range of emotions, is withdrawn, and cannot share her first and last name.

Steps to Take If You Suspect Autism

Dr. Hollier advocates talking to your pediatrician, who may ask you to complete a standardized, autism-specific questionnaire. Based on the answers and on a discussion of your observations, your doctor may make a referral for a developmental diagnostic evaluation. If your child is younger than three years, she recommends contacting your state’s early intervention program. For children older than three, she suggests contacting your local school to request an evaluation for qualifying for developmental and educational support programs, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other programs.

Torres also advocates against a “wait and see” approach, pointing out that 66% of children for whom this is the response still have communication impairments after one year. If you are not comfortable with your doctor’s explanation or recommendation, experts recommend seeking out another doctor’s input.

Finally, as Van Stasse points out, early intervention may make a significant difference in the autism symptoms shown later, so discuss any concerns you have with your pediatrician.

Pam Martin has been writing professionally since the early 1980s, on a wide variety of topics. She brings 20 years of classroom teaching and tutoring experience to the party, including early elementary classes and courses in writing, reading and literature, history, geography and government at middle and high schools. She is also accomplished in crafting and in writing about projects, including her blogs, Roots and Wings From the Village, The Corner Classroom, and Sassy Scribbler, which encompass crafting, cooking, lesson plans, and professional writing advice.

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