The Important Warning Signs of Autism in Infants and Toddlers
Many years ago, I was at dinner party with friends. Their gorgeous 2.5-year-old son was running around without any stopping, and one of the guests commented that “he was so cute, running around like a little robot“.
A few months later I learned that just the day before that dinner party, the boy had been diagnosed with Autism. I can’t even imagine how painful that innocent Robot comment must have been for the parents!
This dinner party was over 10 years ago. At that time, at least I didn’t hear about children being diagned with Autism very often. Today, several research studies indicate that the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has exploded in the last five to ten years and now parents are worried that perhaps their child falls somewhere on the spectrum. Certainly, the vast majority of children will not ever be diagnosed with ASD, and worrying about one or two “odd” behaviors or being late with some milestones, is just not going to make anyone happy. But, early intervention has been proven effective in alleviating symptoms of Autism and providing children with ASD necessary language, social and academic skills. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner intervention can begin. So, ignoring obvious warning signs of autism will not be helpful either!
So what is Autism and ASD?
Autism is a spectrum disorder that encompasses a range of signs and symptoms, unique to each child that has it. Most children with ASD have developmental problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, relating to others and their environment and being flexible with thought and behaviour.
The causes of ASD (because there is no single cause) are to a large extent unknown. Researchers say “a combination of genetics and environmental factors may play a role.” May play a role. Like in “We don’t know”. Frustrating for sure.
What is known and observed are a number of risk factors:
- Children who have a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD.
- ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions
- When taken during pregnancy, the prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked with a higher risk of ASD
- There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during, and immediately after birth
- Children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD.
- A recent study also indicated autism rates are increased for very young parents, as well as parents with a wide age gap between them
Warning Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder to look for
Each child develops at a different pace so it is difficult to determine when a child will learn a particular skill but there are universal milestones that typically developed children will display during their development. It is a lack of these milestones or a regression in development, that may be an early indication that your child has ASD.
Early detection of Autism involves noticing the absence of normal behaviours, not the presence of abnormal ones. According to Autism Speaks and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the following delays should be immediately evaluated by your child’s pediatrician:
- 6 Months: no big smiles or expressions of happiness
- 9 Months: no reciprocation, or back-and-forth sharing, of sounds or facial expressions
- 12 Months: does not respond to name, no babbling or “baby talk”, no reciprocation of gestures
- 14 Months: does not point at objects or show interest
- 16 Months: no spoken words
- 18 Months: does not engage in simple pretend play actions
- 24 Months: no meaningful and independent two-word phrases
Although the signs may be present, Autism is not typically diagnosed before the age of 2 years old. After that age you may begin to see some abnormal behaviours, such as:
- avoiding eye contact
- repeating words and phrases over and over
- getting upset over minor changes
- flat or inappropriate facial expressions
- avoids or resists physical contact
- lines up toys or other objects
- hyperactivity or impulsivity
- unusual eating and sleeping habits
- lack of fear
An excellent video tutorial to detect signs of autism, including examples of children with normal and ASD behaviors respectively is shown here:
What To Do As A Parent
As a parent, you can take some very proactive steps in determining early on whether or not your child has ASD. This begins by monitoring your child’s development and keeping the above delays in mind and always taking action if you’re concerned. Never feel that you should “wait-and-see” when it comes to your child’s development. If you notice anything concerning speak to your child’s doctor immediately. Always trust your instincts; you know your child better than anyone!
Some interesting studies have shown ASD behaviors be reversed completely with early intervention!
Here are some forum discussions here at Easy Baby Life, about babies or toddlers with possible ASD issues.Share your thoughts and experience by commenting below or in the discussions.