A lot of parents worry about the development of their child and what the warning signs are for major developmental disorders. One of the biggest concerns right now is autism, especially since it's important that autism be diagnosed as early as possible, since early intervention greatly increases the child's chances of functioning typically as an adult. While there is no cure for Autism, with the right diagnoses and the correct intervention children who have autism can learn and be in regular education classes and stand a good chance of learning the skills they are missing. This article discusses what the early warning signs of Autism are and when to seek further testing from a physician.
Severely delayed Language and / or Repeated speech
In typically developing children, most will begin to speak by the age of about 18 months. Children who are older than nine months should be able to understand some basic language and respond when they hear they name. Children who have reached the age of two and are not responding to their name and are not speaking at all should be accessed for a speech and language delay. This can be done by a licensed speech and language therapist who can offer insight into what might be going on.
Sometimes children with Autism will speak but not in a logical way. They might not respond to their name but will repeat a phrase from their favorite TV show, or will repeat a phrase a parent says to them over and over again and illogical times.
Avoiding Eye Contact
Most children will turn their head when a person is speaking and look them in the eyes. Children who are Autistic however will avoid all eye contact. Often in young children this will be looking at the floor or over someone's shoulder when they are being spoken to, if they are attending at all.
Prefers to Play Alone and will not Engage with Others
Children can often be shy and slow to engage with others, but in children with Autism this looks a little different. Shy children will often stand at the back and look to the other children playing while not understanding how to join in. It's clear they want to but simply do not know how. Autistic children will play without noticing that other children even exist. When approached they will ignore the other child completely and if another child sits down and tries to play with them they will not engage with that child.
Strange movements and flapping
Children who have autism often have strange movements. They will walk only on tiptoes or will sit on the floor and rock back and forth constantly, sometimes while humming. Some children will pace the floor with odd step movements in an almost jerky fashion. Children with autism will also often flap their hands, sometimes just to the side of their eyes. This can be just one hand or both hands. Sometimes they will make strange hand movements or wiggle their fingers in the corners of their eyes.
Sometimes these movements are actively harmful to the child. They might involve sliding head first down a staircase over and over again or sitting and banging their head against a wall.
Trouble Interpreting Emotions
Many people think that children with autism have no emotions, however this is not true. They feel the same emotions that everyone else feels but often have a lot of trouble interpreting emotions in other people. Sometimes this is because they have difficulty looking at other peoples faces. Sometimes it is because they do not pick up on social cues in the same way other children do. Either way Children with Autism will often be totally lost when it comes to how others around them are feeling and may not even pick up that a parent is frustrated or upset with them.
Sensitive to Loud Sounds and Different Feelings
Many children are scared when loud sounds happen, like a balloon popping but most are able to block out sounds like the noise of a crowd or loud music playing at a holiday party. Children who are autistic however have sensory issues that make it difficult to handle those noises. Even the general noise in a classroom might be too much for someone with Autism. Also, there may be certain clothing fabrics, especially tight and confining clothing that the child can not handle wearing. Often they also do not like wearing shoes. While many children will go through phases where they want to run around naked (usually giggling about it) children with Autism will focus on specific clothing they will not keep on.
Young Children will often ignore danger as they are learning, or do reckless things like run into the street or climb things but children with autism will do dangerous things they do not grow out of. Sometimes these include things like walking down the middle of the street unaware that cars are stopping and honking at them, or trying to climb places that are high where they could get seriously injured. Often children with autism need to be watched very closely or they could come to serious harm, even after the age when most other children are independent enough to understand the dangers.
When to Seek Help
It is always a good idea if your concerned about your child's development to have a conversation with your doctor. In order to diagnose autism, children need to undergo a formal assessment by licensed practitioners. Often there is a waiting list to get these assessments done so it is a good idea to get the process started as soon as possible, since the earlier children get intervention the better. The good news is that many early intervention programs start at the age of two and are willing to help parents with the process of getting the evaluations completed. Even if a child is not diagnosed with autism, early intervention programs are made to build things like speech, social skills, interaction and fine and gross motor skills and can benefit all children, so there is no harm in placing your child in one.
If you believe you are seeing the symptoms listed here, recording notes or videos can help a medical professional understand what you are seeing and help evaluators and educators as well.