Recognizing the Symptoms of Autism

According to recent data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), about one in every fifty-four children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many children begin to display symptoms between 12 and 18 months of age, but they’re not given a diagnosis until later, when their parents notice something is amiss. Because early treatment typically leads to more positive outcomes for people with ASD, it’s important that parents keep an eye out for the signs that one of their children might have ASD. Do you know what to look for? 

  • A lack of engagement may be one of the first signs of ASD. Babies engage with their parents even before they can speak. They make eye contact, cuddle, smile, and recognize faces. A baby with ASD may not make eye contact or smile, even someone is smiling at him or her. If your baby doesn’t cry or babble to get your attention and won’t follow your finger when you point at something, it could be cause for concern. 
  • Regression occurs with some children. Sometimes, between the ages of one and two years, children with ASD will stop using language, play, or social skills they’ve already learned. They might stop sharing a smile or looking at faces. There’s no clear-cut answer as to why this happens with some children or, for that matter, which children are likely to regress. 
  • A child with ASD may struggle when playing alone or with others. The child may not play simple games like pat-a-cake at one year old, and by age two and a half doesn’t pretend when playing. Children with ASD may not play games that require them to take turns. This should occur by age five, and if it doesn’t, it’s reason to talk to the pediatrician. Children with ASD often show little interest in peers and may lack empathy. 
  • Children with ASD sometimes demonstrate odd behaviors. They may speak in an unusual tone or repeat words over and over, and they may have difficulty understanding and using nonverbal communication. They might play with the same toy, the same way, all the time, or they might line all their toys up and get upset if the order is changed. A child with ASD might be hyper-focused on one part of an object, or may develop obsessive interests. Children with autism might flap their hands, rock their bodies or spin in circles. They also sometimes have unusual reactions to the way things look, taste, smell, sound, or feel. 
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