How to Identify Early Signs of Autism
The possibility of their child having an Autism Spectrum Disorder is a concern for many parents. As a child develops they begin to learn social skills, vocabulary and other capabilities which are vital to their communication and growth. A parent’s concern is valid considering that 1 in 45 children between the ages of 1 and 17 are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Not developing certain areas of growth typically begins at a young age. However, it is possible to identify Autism in children as young as six months old. As a baby matures into a toddler, there are often signs of Autism which may not be obvious immediately. When examined by psychiatrists, children with Autism typically began to show signs and symptoms as infants or toddlers. Knowing that a child has Autism is the first step toward treatment.
Early intervention therapies and procedures can make a massive impact on the progression of the disorder. The earlier a child can get into treatment, the better, which is why early detection is key in the treatment of Autism. It can be difficult to decipher whether a behavior is simply a behavior or a symptom of Autism. While there is no a blood test or physical exam that can determine if a child has Autism, there are psychological evaluations which can detect the disorder. There are also small clues which may help parents and caregivers identify symptoms of Autism in a child. Looking for these red flags while a child develops could result in early detection of Autism which would lead to early intervention.
- Not smiling or having little facial expression
One of the first social skills a baby learns is facial expressions. As their parent bonds with them, the baby will begin to mimic the parent’s facial expression. Often this leads to big dramatic smiles and laughs. However, should a child not mimic facial expressions or otherwise smile and laugh, it may be cause for concern. When a child with Autism is developing, there is no abnormal development occurring but rather a lack of development in certain areas. A person with Autism often has limited facial expressions and does not react to others facial expressions. Lacking facial expressions is not the sole indicator of Autism although it is deemed as a red flag for early detection.
- Not making eye contact
Infants will often follow objects with their eyes including their parent as they walk across a room. If the parent moves closer to the baby, it is instinctual for the baby to make eye contact. This interaction would typically end with a smile or laugh from the child. However, an infant with Autism might not follow their parent around the room as intently, and they would likely avoid eye contact once the parent was up close. One theory is that eye contact is aversive or painful to a person that has Autism, while it is possible that those with Autism simply deem eye contact as unimportant or not instinctual. Nonetheless, eye contact is a major part of human social development and lacking the instinct to make eye contact with other people may be an early indicator of Autism.
- Not babbling
An infant learning to make sounds will begin with simple sounds with no real meaning or babbling. As they develop, the babbling (“da”) slowly turns into sounds with meaning (“dada”) which eventually transform into words (“daddy”). As the baby transitions to verbal communication, they begin to make demands verbally, call objects by name and identify people. Babbling is the precursor to developed speech and is essential to further speech progression. Should this process fail to develop or should the child regress and begin to lose vocabulary, Autism may be present. An infant’s babble is the first step towards language development, and if a child is not babbling by 12 months of age, it could be cause for concern. It is important to have a hearing test done to rule out the possibility of a hearing impairment. While the lack of speech by itself may not indicate Autism, it should be brought to their doctor’s attention.
- Not pointing
As a baby develops into a toddler, they will begin to desire specific toys, people, foods or objects. At first, a baby may simply wave his hand in the direction of the desired item, and over time he will develop the motor control to point at desired objects. Children with Autism typically do not point or gesture toward desired objects. A typically developed child may even verbally attempt to say the name of the object while a child with Autism likely does not react to the object at all. Children with Autism typically do not react as enthusiastically to their environment as neurotypically developed children do. A lack of gestures toward desired items is not enough to diagnose a child Autism however it is an early warning sign of the disorder.
- Not responding to their name
As a baby develops they will learn their name, and they will react to their name being called by eye contact, turning their head, making gestures or making sounds. A child with Autism likely will not react at all. Even when a parent attempts to get their attention in other ways, the child with Autism will appear to ignore the parent. Responding to your given name is socially important in society as it will give others a way to get your attention. A child with Autism will appear to ignore attempts to get their attention whether it is by calling their name, clapping or other gestures and sounds. This alone is not an indicator of Autism although it is a possible symptom should the child be diagnosed.
- Avoiding physical touch
It is unclear why a person with Autism avoids physical touch although it is believed to be physically painful for them. A baby or toddler will desire cuddles and hugs from their family. They will search for physical affection and desire close contact with their parents. A child with Autism will likely avoid physical contact with people. They will move away from hands attempting to touch them, and they will wiggle their way out of a hug. They likely will not initiate any form of physical contact, and if they do, it is brief and rare. Avoiding physical touch can be found in infants that do not enjoy being held and toddlers that do not seek out cuddles or hugs. This early indication of Autism can be found in young children as early as nine months old. Being touched is often desired although the lack of desire may indicate the possibility of Autism.
- Doesn’t show interest in other children
A toddler without Autism is likely to interact with other children. He/she will likely babble or talk to the other children, touch them, show them toys, attempt to take toys from them and otherwise engage in play time with them. A child with Autism will likely appear to ignore the other children and will appear to be in “their own little world.” Neurotypical children are naturally social and desire interaction with others. A child with Autism appears not to have that desire and instead appears to be content by themselves. When presented with a social situation, a child with Autism is likely to shy away from others or ignore them altogether. A lack of social interaction with others is not alone an indicator of Autism, but it is a symptom.
Early detection is key in improving the prognosis of the child with Autism. Learning these symptoms and watching out for them could mean early detection and intervention. When given early intervention, children with Autism can improve tremendously and the earlier they are in treatment, the better. Early detection is life changing for someone with Autism. These symptoms are small and seemingly insignificant, but they are the first signs of Autism. Some children may develop slower than others however if they fall too far behind, it is a good idea to seek medical treatment. Furthermore, if a child has developed a skill such as speech, and then they regress, it should be brought to their doctor’s attention as soon as possible. Autism Spectrum Disorders can be intimidating, scary and at times devastating. However, with tools such as early intervention and therapy, a person with Autism can improve greatly.