What are the early signs of autism?
Symptoms range and can differ for each child
Like every parent, you have big dreams for your children. Maybe you envision them becoming doctors or lawyers, raising big families or playing shortstop in the World Series. When something comes along that challenges those dreams – such as a developmental delay or autism – you may experience some level of denial. However, recognizing the symptoms early and getting professional help during the critical developmental years can make all the difference.
“If you’re a parent of a child with autism or developmental delays, keep in mind that you’ve done nothing wrong,” said Thomas Challman, M.D., medical director and neurodevelopmental pediatrician at Geisinger’s Autism & Developmental Medicine Institute. “Now more than ever, your child needs you to advocate on his behalf to get the intervention that will help improve his opportunity for success.”
Signs and symptoms to look for
“The challenging part about autism is that it can manifest in different ways, so one child with autism may not have exactly the same symptoms as another,” said Dr. Challman. “This is why autism is called a ‘spectrum’ disorder – the signs, symptoms and behaviors associated with autism occur across a range, from mild to severe.”
Children with autism spectrum disorders have problems or respond differently in three general areas:
- Communicating both verbally and non-verbally
- Interaction with people and the objects around them
- Inflexible behaviors and routines
Autism can be especially difficult to diagnose in children younger than 12 months old. When your child is very young, you may notice that he doesn’t respond to his name and doesn’t smile or imitate your facial expressions. Or, she may not like to cuddle like your other children did at her age, and may not make eye contact.
“Children with autism may miss certain developmental milestones, particularly in the area of language” said Dr. Challman. “Keep in mind that missing milestones is also not a cut-and-dry diagnostic tool, since children develop at different rates – so don’t panic if your child is a little late.”
However, if your child consistently misses milestones, or reaches them much later than usual, your doctor may suggest further evaluation. The following are general guidelines may indicate the need for additional assessment:
- By 6 months: No big smiles or happy expressions.
- By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing smiles, sounds or facial expressions.
- By 1 year: Not responding to their name, babbling, or gestures like pointing, reaching and waving.
- By 16 months: No spoken words.
- By 24 months: No two-word phrases.
“If you or your doctor are concerned about any of these developmental delays, you may be asked to complete a developmental screening checklist, such as one called the M-CHAT,” said Dr. Challman. “It’s a simple test that requires parents to give yes or no answers to determine if their child needs further evaluation.”
The sooner you get started helping your child with developmental delays, the better. Therapy for autism and other developmental issues is available through your county, through the Early Intervention program.
“Early Intervention is tailored to the specific needs of your child, and may include a combination of speech, physical and occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy” said Dr. Challman.
If you have any concerns about your child’s development, contact your pediatrician today. For more information about ADMI, please visit http://www.geisingeradmi.org/.