Early Signs of Autism: What Parents Should Look For

Introduction

Autistic children usually show symptoms associated with the condition from a very early age, but the condition is usually not diagnosed until the child is much older. The early signs of autism usually go unnoticed just because the parents or caregivers are not aware of what signs to look out for.

Learning the early signs of autism can help the parents seek immediate help and get an early diagnosis. This can help the child get an early intervention to lead an independent and improved quality of life.

What is Autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the behavior, communication, and social interactions of a person.

Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, the condition is known as a developmental disorder as autism symptoms usually appear in the first two or three years of life.

What Are the Early Signs of Autism?

Autism can lead to some early signs and symptoms in young children, which include the following:

Social Differences in Children with Autism

Children having autism may find it difficult to understand and recognize certain social skills and cues, which means that the child does not know how to react or communicate in certain social situations.

Social differences can include problems like not responding to someone smiling or greeting you, avoiding eye contact, showing a lack of concern for another person, and difficulty in making friends.

Communication Difficulties

Children with autism struggle to understand both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication, as well as express their own thoughts, needs, and feelings to others.

Some signs of communication difficulties in autistic children include not reacting to their own name, not engaging in pretend play, not saying their first word by the age of 15 months, inability to use two-word phrases by two years of age, and losing language skills between the age of 15 to 24 months. 

Behavioral Issues

Certain types of behaviors, like repetitive actions, extreme aggression, and being extremely rigid over a routine, could indicate behavioral problems that may need evaluation for autism. 

Other behavioral problems associated with autism may include strong interests that are very narrow, throwing excessive tantrums, not crying when in pain, and being extra sensitive or not sensitive at all to certain smells, textures, sounds, touch, and light.

Other Signs of Autism

The signs of autism vary among different individuals affected by the conditions. Some other signs of autism may include gastrointestinal problems, extreme interest in some special subjects, and displaying strong emotions when some unexpected changes take place.

What Are the Signs of Autism in Babies?

The signs of autism in children are as follows:

  • Does not respond to his or her name
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Does not smile back when someone smiles at him or her
  • Gets upset if he or she does not like a particular smell, sound, or taste
  • Does not talk or communicate as much as other children
  • Repetitive movements like flicking of fingers, flapping of hands, or rocking the body
  • Does not get involved much in pretend play
  • Repeats the same phrases
  • Is unable to understand nonverbal forms of communication like pointing or waving
  • Difficulty with verbal forms of communication like babbling or cooing at a very young age and using one or two-word phrases in older children
  • Disinterest in playing with other children

What is ABA Therapy?

ABA therapy, also known as applied behavior analysis, is a type of treatment performed to improve the communication, social, and learning skills of a person by using reinforcement methods. The therapy is commonly used in cases of autism and other types of developmental disorders in children.

The approach used in this therapy is that the child is rewarded or praised for some types of good behaviors and encouraged to repeat those behaviors. This approach is called positive reinforcement. Also, some types of negative behaviors are not reinforced in the child, so these behaviors decrease and eventually disappear completely.

How Can ABA Therapy Help Improve the Signs of Autism

According to Dr. Sonam Kothari, Consultant Pediatric Neurologist and Behavior Analyst at Butterfly Learnings, ABA therapy can help improve the signs of autism in five important ways, which include the following:

  1. Teaches new skills to autistic people, like communication, social interaction, and daily living skills.
  2. Helps modify challenging behaviors, like self-injury, aggression, or repetitive behaviors.
  3. Motivates desired behaviors using positive reinforcement.
  4. Improves self-confidence and independence.
  5. Improves the overall quality of life and daily living.

If I Suspect My Child Has Autism, What Can I Do?

If you feel that your child is struggling to fit in, has communication, social, or learning problems that interfere with the child’s daily life, or notice any signs associated with autism, you should not delay and consult the child’s pediatrician immediately.

If the pediatrician suspects a problem, the child will undergo a complete evaluation and some tests may be performed to rule out other conditions like hearing loss or other learning disorders that could have symptoms similar to autism.

The pediatrician may refer the child to a child psychologist, developmental pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, speech therapist, or another specialist to evaluate the child’s thinking abilities, motor skills, and language level. 

A common tool used by specialists to diagnose autism is the M-CHAT-R (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers), which is a questionnaire prepared for autism screening in toddlers between 16 to 30 months of age. Early screening and diagnosis can help in improving the child’s behavior, learning, communication, and overall development. 

Besides getting immediate help for your child showing signs of autism, you can take some other proactive steps to help in your child’s development, which include educating yourself about autism, providing an affectionate and caring environment at home, being patient with the child, and connecting with parents of other autistic children for guidance and support.

Conclusion

Autism can affect different people in different ways. Although there is no specific treatment for autism, early screening and monitoring can help improve treatment outcomes in autistic children. 

An understanding of the early symptoms and signs of autism can enable parents and caregivers to get the necessary support and interventions needed by the child as early as possible.

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