- What is Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder?
- What are signs that my child may have Autism?
- How is Autism Diagnosed?
- What Treatment Options are Available?
- Family Resources
Autism should not be thought of as one specific condition or disorder but rather a broad range of disorders that vary greatly in symptoms and the severity of those symptoms. We refer to this group of conditions as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). All ASDs are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some people with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.
Research has shown that ASD is related to very early brain development. The most obvious signs and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.
You should seek an evaluation with your doctor immediately if your child:
- Does not babble or coo by 12 months of age
- Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months of age
- Does not say single words by 16 months of age
- Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own (rather than just repeating what someone says to him or her) by 24 months of age
- Has any loss of language or social skills at any age
The following "red flags" could be signs of autism or related disorder and should be discussed with your doctor:
- Does not respond to his/her name
- Cannot explain what he/she wants
- Delayed language skills or speech
- Doesn't follow directions
- Seems to hear sometimes, but not other times
- Doesn't point or wave bye-bye
- Used to say a few words or babble, but now he/she doesn't
- Throws intense or violent tantrums
- Has odd movement patterns
- Hyperactive, uncooperative, or oppositional
- Doesn't know how to play with toys
- Doesn't smile when smiled at
- Has poor eye contact
- Gets "stuck" on things over and over and can't move on to other things, repetitive
- Prefers to play alone
- Stays in his/her "own world"
- Tunes people out
- Not interested in other children
- Walks on his/her toes
- Shows unusual attachments to toys, objects, or routines (i.e., always holding a string or having to put socks on before pants)
- Spends a lot of time lining things up or putting things in a certain order
Many ASD symptoms are noticed by 18 months of age, and parents and doctors are often alerted around age 2. However, the average age of diagnosis is about 3 years old. If you have concerns about your child’s development, please speak with your child’s doctor.
Presently, we don’t have a medical test that can diagnose autism. Instead, specially trained physicians and psychologists administer autism-specific behavioral evaluations.
Often parents are the first to notice that their child is showing unusual behaviors such as failing to make eye contact, not responding to his or her name or playing with toys in unusual, repetitive ways.
Because the disorder is complex and symptoms are unique for each child, it is important for parents to be proactive. If a parent has concerns about their child’s development, it is important to ask the child’s doctor about autism screening or request a referral for a developmental evaluation.
A medical evaluation of autism should be made by a physician or other professional with expertise in diagnosing ASD. The evaluation may include:
- Detailed history, physical and neurologic exam
- Careful observation of the child at play and interaction with the caregiver
- Standardized autism rating scale or observation schedule
- Hearing test
- Language evaluation
- Cognitive testing
- Detailed family history
- Genetic laboratory tests to look for the underlying cause of ASD symptoms Neurologic tests such as the EEG or MRI
There is no single, definitive treatment for individuals with ASD. However, research shows early behavioral interventions may help to maximize each child’s potential. Early diagnosis, followed by comprehensive and intensive early interventions, may produce better outcomes for many children with autism.