Having a child is both the most exciting and frightening thing that humans can do. The simple knowledge that you are now responsible for this tiny life is humbling and uplifting – and downright scary all at the same time. There are so many negative scenarios and “what ifs” that can run through your mind. It becomes even more difficult when you realize that each child is different and there are no absolutes to tell you whether or not something is wrong with your child. Are your child’s behaviors normal for them or are they potentially signs of autism? Here are some common symptoms and information to help you determine if your toddler is exhibiting signs of autism.
What is Autism?
While many people refer to this simply as “autism”, technically it includes a range of symptoms and is more accurately referred to as “autism spectrum disorder” or ASD. This complex neurobehavioral condition can cause individuals with the condition to exhibit a wide range of symptoms such as rigid, repetitive behaviors, developmental or language challenges, and delayed social interaction. Understandably, that makes ASD exceptionally difficult to pinpoint and diagnose, especially in young toddlers. Communication difficulties could be autism, or they could be a perfectly normal symptom of a child who is developing slightly later than his peers. The autism spectrum covers everything from a slight aversion to loud sounds to a devastating disability.
Early Signs of Autism
Girls are less likely than boys to exhibit signs of autism at any age, however the disorder occurs in both genders. The condition may start at any time, but it is common for children with autism to suddenly regress around the age of 2 or 3 and lose social or communication skills they had already learned. Some of the early signs of autism spectrum disorder you should look for in your child:
- Reluctance to maintain eye contact
- Speech delays or lack of progress towards speaking
- Lack of interest in playing “pretend” games
- Distress over small changes in schedule or routine
- Preference for being alone the majority of the time
- Few to no social skills
- Active avoidance of physical contact
- Unusually strong reactions to bright lights, loud sounds or specific tastes, feels or sounds
- Difficulty understanding their feelings or the feelings of others
- Lack of awareness of danger
- Extreme anxiety or phobias
- Limited attention span, hyperactivity
- Rocking or compulsive self-soothing behaviors
- Excessive aggression
- Unusual eating or sleeping habits
- A tendency to line up objects or always play with toys the same way
Taken individually, these symptoms could be any toddler on any given today. However, when several of these behaviors are combined, it may be an indicator that your child is somewhere on the autism spectrum or otherwise delayed developmentally.
First Steps for Parents
If you believe your child is exhibiting some of these signs and symptoms, where can you turn? Your pediatrician is a good first resource. He or she will be able to recommend resources for developmental screening tests to determine if your child is developing normally or if they are showing early signs of autism spectrum disorder. You may not realize it, but your physician is likely screening your child at their well-child physicals at 9 months, 18 months, and again at either 24 or 30 months. These benchmarks allow your physician to determine whether there are signs of a problem.
Your child may be referred for additional and more comprehensive diagnostic evaluations to review your child’s behavior. Testing at this stage could include genetic, neurological or other medical tests as well as a behavioral review. Parents are often interviewed as part of the process to determine whether there are any environmental factors that need to be taken into consideration.
While autism is not curable or preventable, it is treatable with therapy and intervention. The majority of children respond well to treatments that can improve language skills, overall behavior, and physical coordination. Learn more about the full spectrum of autism disorders and get additional information and help at Caring4OurKids.org. There are both struggles and joys associated with raising a child with developmental disabilities, and the support of a loving community can help you see the beauty that lives in each little life. Contact us today to provide feedback or ask questions.