Autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can manifest as different symptoms in different children. The average age of diagnosis is 2 years, though some children may be detected at around the age of 5 years.
The symptoms to look out for in children for suspected autism are:
- Delayed milestones
- A socially awkward child
- The child who has trouble with verbal and nonverbal communication
Delayed Milestones: Every child starts cooing, rolling over, babbling, smiling, pointing, and sitting up at an expected age. These are called milestones. Though every child grows at their own pace, you must visit the pediatrician if:
- The child does not smile by the age of 6 months
- The child has no facial expressions by the age of 9 months
- The child does not make cooing noises or babble by the age of 12 months
- No pointing or waving by the age of 12 months
- The child does not speak by the age of 16 months
Signs of social awkwardness: You must be concerned if your child
- Avoids eye contact while you feed him
- Prefers to play alone
- Does not respond to their name
- Does not like being touched
- Prefers fixed routines and even a minor change may upset them greatly
- Has trouble understanding feelings or talking about them
Problems with verbal and nonverbal communication:
- Echolalia: They keep repeating words over and over
- They talk in a flat tone, devoid of expressions
- They do not understand emotions (anguish or sarcasm) in a conversation
- Have difficulty communicating what they want
Other important red flags are:
- Regression of milestones: If your child develops the milestones as expected age but loses them by the age of 12-18 months and stops smiling, cooing, pointing, etc., it is a definite reason for concern.
- Stimming: If your child shows certain repetitive behaviors like head flapping, twitching of the eyelid, twirling, flapping their hands, spin in circles, you must consult the pediatrician immediately.
- Abnormal eating behavior: Pica (an abnormal desire to eat something that is not regarded as food, such as dirt, clay, ice, or hair), eating only certain food types like sweet or salty food or only ‘yellow’ or a particular colored food.
- Temper tantrums: These are seen in kids between the age of 2-5 years. The child may be overly agitated, bang their head against the floor. They may have unusual reactions to harmless smells and voices.
What is autism?
Autism or an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the ability of a person to interact at a social level. The brain of a child with an ASD does not process the sounds, sights, and smells like an average person. This results in behaviors that are considered socially awkward.
It must be noted that autism is not contagious. Playing with an autistic child will not cause similar signs in another child. Also, there is no relationship between autism and vaccination.
In some cases, the child with autism may have other issues like mental retardation, convulsions, hyperactivity. However, some individuals with ASD have higher intelligence and are extremely skilled at painting, math, art, etc. In each case of autism, early detection and intervention are crucial. Early therapy can help the child communicate better. It can also help the parents understand their children and reach out to them.
What should I do if my child has delayed milestones?
Talk to your child specialist about your concerns. While it is absolutely normal for every child to achieve milestones at their own pace, you must always be on the lookout for red flags. If the child does not smile, coo, speak, react to your affections by hugging back, or have eye contact, you must consult your doctor.
You must specifically monitor your child’s growth and development if
- You were on medications like Thalidomide, Valproic acid, or antipsychotic medicines during your pregnancy.
- You or your spouse was in late the 30s when you conceived (children born to older parents are at risk).
- You have a family member (child, sibling, parent) with autism.
- You suffered from viral infections during your pregnancy.
- Your baby had a low birth weight.
‘Wait and watch policy’ will not help a child with an autistic spectrum disorder. In fact, from 1 to 2 years of age, the brain is still developing. If the therapy is started at this point, most symptoms of autism can be worked upon. Though, currently, autism is not curable, early intervention during the preschool years can help the child manage the behavioral issues and teach them to cope better in social situations. Behavioral therapy involves teaching parents to reach out to their children. Children suffering from hyperactivity, convulsions, and sleep problems also need early medical management.
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