Recognising the Signs and Symptoms of Autism

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Spotting warning signs

To spot the signs for autism, the basic rule is, knowing what to look for. Parents, here, are the best judge as they know their children, their behaviours and their quirks better than anyone else. They can spot, even what the doctors may miss in a quick fifteen minute visit.

The first step is to monitor the child’s development. The delay in the development of the children provides a heightened risk for autism. Hence, keeping a close eye on the physical, emotional, behavioural and cognitive milestones is an important factor.

Children develop at different paces, some way too early and some a little late. When it comes to healthy development, there are a lot of signs to look for. But if you think, that your child is not at the same page as other children, then trust your gut and do see a paediatrician. Seeking for referrals, second opinions or follow up appointments are nothing to shy away from, when it comes to your child’s health.

The symptoms to look for in babies and toddlers

It is usually hard to diagnose autism before 24 months, as symptoms only surface between 12 to 18 months. The first sign to look for is the absence of normal behaviours. The signs can also be misinterpreted as signs of a ‘good baby’ as they are usually quiet, independent, and undemanding.

Some developmental red flags are:

  • If by 6 months, the babe doesn’t smile or gives out joyful expressions
  • By 9 months there is no sharing of sounds, smiles or facial expressions
  • By 12 months does not respond to name, lack of baby talk and doesn’t show gestures of pointing, reaching or waving.
  • By 16 months there are no spoken words
  • By 24 months there no meaningful phrases that don’t include imitating or repeating.

Symptoms for older children

As children grow older, they face the world more and hence the red flags of autism become a little more diverse. The flags will be from lack of social skills, language and speech difficulties, non verbal communication difficulties and rigid behaviour.

Let us try and understand all of them individually. Firstly, social skills difficulties would include:

  • Doesn’t connect with others, and cannot make friends or play with peers
  • Prefers not being touched, held or cuddled
  • Appears disinterested or unaware
  • Doesn’t play ‘pretend games’ or use toys in creative ways, group games, or even imitate others
  • Has trouble processing feelings
  • Doesn’t seem to hear when others talk to him
  • Doesn’t share interest or achievements with others

Signs of language difficulties (both verbal and non verbal)

  • Speaks in abnormal tone, or with a particular rhythm or pitch
  • Repeats phrases again and again
  • Responds to question by repeating, not answering
  • Doesn’t communicate needs or desires
  • Takes everything literally, difficulty in understanding humour.
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Doesn’t know how to emote expressions, can’t understand others’ expressions
  • Makes few gestures
  • Reacts to loud noises, sights, smells, textures and sounds in an unusual manner
  • Abnormal posture, eccentric way of moving

Children will also show signs of inflexibility

  • Follow rigid routine, difficulty in adapting to change
  • Unusual attachment to toys or objects like keys, light switches, or rubber bands.
  • Preoccupation with narrow topic of interest
  • Spends long periods of time looking at moving objects
  • Repetition in movement, such as rocking back and forth, twirling (this is supposed to soothe them rather than aggress them)

Getting professional help

Children develop at their own pace, some taking more time than others. However, children with ASD show signs of delayed development in the first year itself. If you see the signs and symptoms, do not go for the wait-and-see approach. The earlier the treatment begins the more effective it will be for the child. Being proactive is always a best approach when it comes to testing for developmental disorders.

The first step would be to schedule an autism screening. A series of specialised tools have been designed that can help the doctors determine whether you child is at risk. They are quick, straightforward and completely harmless. The paediatrician will usually have a checklist of symptoms with yes – or no type questions.

If the paediatrician detects the signs of autism during screening, your child will be referred to a specialist who will go for a complete and detailed diagnostic evaluation. The first assessment was for screening the symptoms, the next is for diagnosis. A specialist can confirm whether or not the child has autism however, most of them do not diagnose a child with autism if s/he is less than two years of age.

As stressed on before, early intervention is the key. The process for diagnoses is tricky for parents and can take a lot of time and energy but it remains in the best interest of the child. If the specialist responds in affirmative, then ask him to recommend early intervention services. These are programs, funded for infants and toddlers with special needs. And children benefit for them whether or not they meet the full criteria for ASD. It is important to not lose hope and remember no matter the age, the effects can be reduced and the child can learn, grow and thrive!

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