Even though some calculations report that autism occurs in 1 in 48 births, some parents may not realize the signs and symptoms right away – or, may be in denial about the symptoms. Old wives’ tales commonly go around that tell parents, “don’t worry, boys are late talkers,” and other semi-truthful adages passed on from generation to generation.
While there is some truth to the fact that boys may speak later while girls walk sooner, every child’s timeline is different, including the ones that may have the beginning symptoms of autism. Here, we will take a look at some of the early warning signs and symptoms and when it’s a good idea to get a referral from your pediatrician.
There are some budding tests (as of 2018) that can and will test infants for autism (those around 6-12 months of age), but these are fairly uncommon as of yet, mainly making their way through professional medical circles. Generally speaking (and for the purposes of this article), autism symptoms can become apparent to a layperson between the age of 1 year and 18 months.
This is in part because it’s incredibly hard to communicate with a baby. While of course you are forming a strong maternal and paternal bond with your child during these early months of life, there surely is a barrier between communication. Crying is the only way for the infant to expressly communicate his or her needs – and this is true for the autistic infant as well. Generally speaking, you won’t see a lot of differences until the one-year mark.
What Is Autism?
It’s a good idea to explain what autism is, because it’s a tricky definition. Basically, medical and psychological professionals look for deficiencies in three core areas: the autistic child will have a deficiency when it comes to speaking (both verbally and non-verbally), he or she will have trouble relating to the world around them and thinking and behavior is markedly different than that of their peers.
They call autism a spectrum, and it is a surprisingly true fact. Some children may only be mildly affected by autism, while others will be more severely affected (and may have coexisting and comorbid problems, such as cerebral palsy or intellectual disability). No one really knows at this point what causes autism, so the best thing to do is to get it diagnosed early, so the child can be treated as soon as possible.
It is also important for parents to know that autism “symptoms” can come on suddenly. For example, you may have a seemingly normally healthy one-year old. He or she may already be walking, beginning to talk, and perhaps there are no worrisome signs. However, it is not uncommon for children (between the ages of 12 months to 2 years) to suddenly have symptoms of autism. The most common things to look for are listed below.
Autism’s Common Early Signs
Eye contact is exceedingly important when it comes to you and your child, as well as your child and others. Autistic children have a tendency to divert their gaze. They will stare off into space; they may avoid making eye contact altogether. If your child makes poor eye contact or none at all, this is the number one warning sign.
By the age of 12-14 months, your child should know his or her name. If you call, “Charlie,” they should look at the direction of the voice to see who is speaking. If your child rarely responds to their name, or does not respond at all, this is another crucial sign.
Early signs of communication are also important. After the 12-month mark, a child should be able to point (either to show or to demonstrate a want), clap their hands, and wave bye-bye. If your child can not make any of these non-verbal communication signs, it may be indicative of a problem.
A child should also be able to visually follow an object. Take a preferred toy and see if your child can gaze perfectly when you move the toy. If they have trouble holding their gaze on an object or find it difficult to pick a preferred object out (for example, a favorite toy with the background of a patterned rug), this may be problematic.
Most infants and toddlers also desire to be cuddled. If your child does not seem to want affection, or clearly dislikes it, this is another warning sign to note.
Playing with peers is Important. When children are under 2 years of age, they typically do not play with each other. However, any child should be interested in his/her peers and should partake in what is known as “parallel play.” This consists of two (or more) children, sitting side by side, playing similarly but not necessarily together. If your child does not seem to notice other children, (one parent describes it as “he saw other children as if they were ghosts”), or does not like to play with peers, this is a sign of autism.
A young child should also imitate. He or she should (by the age of 12-15 months), want to imitate your facial expressions and sounds. It’s not a perfect replication that you’re looking for – but the child should be interested and willing to try to imitate, particularly when it comes to sounds and gestures.
There is also a particular timetable that professionals often look for. A child who is normally developing usually hits the mark on the following by the designated dates:
• By 6 months of age, you want your child to smile and make facial expressions.
• By 9 months, the child should be trying to imitate your sounds and expressions.
• By 12 months, the child should be saying “dada,” “mama,” or other similar sounds, and should be babbling and cooing. Babies should also be waving and pointing at this time.
• By 12 months, the child should also respond to his or her name nearly every time.
• By 16 months, the child should have a handful of spoken words.
• By 24 months, the child should be able to speak in two-word phrases.
If you feel that your child is not meeting the above milestones, or you are concerned that they are showing signs and symptoms of autism listed above, the best next step is to make an appointment with your pediatrician.
Your pediatrician will likely then ask you a series of questions called an MCHAT. If your child scores high enough on this questionnaire (due to the answers you’ve given), they will likely put in a referral for autism testing. This is usually a long test (one to two days), where professionals will measure your child’s communication, speech, and behavioral practices.
It is not uncommon these days to have an autism diagnosis under the age of 2. While this may sound disheartening, getting the diagnosis as early as possible opens the door to letting your child have the services they need.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of PatientNextDoor. Any omissions or errors are the author’s and PatientNextDoor does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.