Identifying Autism in Children

Not only was April Child Abuse Prevention Month but it was also Autism Awareness Month. Research has indicated that autism has increased substantially in the past few decades. Currently, experts estimate that 3 – 6 children out of every 1,000 will have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Males are four times more likely to have ASD than females.

What are the signs your child may have Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Father and son
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disorders that should be evaluated by a professional.

ASD is a range (or spectrum) of complex neurodevelopmental disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Classic ASD is the most severe form, while along the spectrum are other conditions such as a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, a rare condition called Rett syndrome  (which mostly affects females), and a few others.

The signs of Autism

Research is ongoing regarding the neurological details of autism, and hopefully, we will have advanced information about its cause and cure in the not-too-distant future.  Meanwhile, however, it is important to know the signs of autism. Both references used below in this article provide more details than I have summarized here.

The Autism Spectrum Foundation Web site publishes the typical behaviors to look for in diagnosing ASD. The site offers a list of what behaviors to look for at specific ages.

Additionally, the National Institute of Mental Health states symptoms of ASD vary from one child to the next, but all demonstrate deficits in three areas: social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests.  Each of these symptoms runs the gamut from mild to severe.

Symptoms will present in each child differently. For instance, a child may have little trouble learning to read but exhibit extremely poor social interaction. Each child will display communication, social, and behavioral patterns that are individual but fit into the overall diagnosis of ASD.

The following warning signs or “red flags” should be considered as indicators for investigating the possibility of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) but does not mean a child has ASD. Diagnosis requires a process from a team of professionals.

6-12 Month Markers:

  • Infrequent eye contact
  • Failure to orient to name
  • Does not smile in response to smiles from others
  • Social and emotional passivity
  • Fixation on objects

By 12 Months:

  • Poor or no eye contact
  • Failure to orient to name
  • Poor imitation
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No gesturing by 12 months

By 16 Months:

  • No single words by 16 months
  • No pointing to objects or events of interest in an effort to share

By 24 Months:

  • No spontaneous two-word phrases
  • Loss of any language or social skills at any age

I do want to re-emphasize that just because a child has some of the indicators, it will be important to have a professional do a complete evaluation prior to any assumptions about autism. However, caregivers are urged to become aware of these early childhood symptoms and be proactive if a full evaluation is warranted.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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