All new parents should be aware of the early signs of autism, given the growing prevalence of this condition among the children today.
According to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, around one in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parenting a child who is on the spectrum takes specialized knowledge and techniques, so it’s important for families to become aware of the early signs of autism as soon as possible.
Also, if you plan to become a child caregiver, educator, psychologist or otherwise join the healthcare industry and specialize in working with children, it’s just as necessary for you to understand the particularities and the early signs of autism.
Read on for some of the most common early signs of autism in young ones today.
Behind in Physical Milestones
One of the first things parents and other caregivers might notice is that a child is behind in physical milestones – things which other babies and toddlers seem to be doing with ease. For example, if children are unable to grasp and hold objects by three months old or follow moving objects with their eyes, this can be one of the early signs of autism.
Similarly, the inability at 12 months to crawl, wave, shake the head, point to things or stand when supported can also point to a potential autism diagnosis. By two years of age, there are other physical milestones that autistic children might not be keeping up with. This list includes walking, pushing a wheeled toy or trolley or knowing the function of everyday household objects, e.g. a fork and spoon or a telephone.
If you have an autistic child, you may notice that they don’t always react to sounds or respond when you say their name. Many kids won’t even turn around to see where a sound is coming from. They also won’t be likely to reach for you to be held or use other types of gestures that children of the same age exhibit.
Autistic children also don’t develop the same communication skills as neurotypical kids. For example, by the time they’re one year old, most children can say single words. However, you’ll find that autistic children are not at this same point.
Similarly, little ones may not smile at caregivers without being smiled at or tickled first and be slow to laugh, babble, make squealing sounds and the like. Autistic children may not use gestures on their own either, such as indicating goodbye through a wave.
They are also slow to use eye contact to get attention and make requests. For example, children with the early signs of autism won’t look at a snack to show their parent that they’re hungry or would like to eat the said food item.
Traditionally, by 24 months, many children can speak in two-word sentences and will have a vocabulary of at least 15 words. They will also be able to follow simple instructions and understand much of what people are saying to them (and behave accordingly). They often imitate actions or words, particularly of parents. However, for autistic children, these milestones may not be met.
In addition, young ones on the spectrum can demonstrate unusual speaking patterns. They may speak in a flat tone or high-pitched voice, talk haltingly, repeat the same words or phrases over and over again or repeat questions rather than answering them.
Difficulty with Relationships and Lack of Interest in Play
Relationships and play are also different for autistic children. For example, unlike their peers, those on the spectrum don’t tend to pay attention to new faces, show interest in other children or show affection for their parents. They won’t be keen to get attention or to initiate games like patty-cake or peekaboo. They often won’t want to be cuddled, be kissed or hold hands, either.
Autistic children don’t have a tendency to engage in pretend play. However, they can seem to play with objects in unusual ways. They might be focused on lining things up or arranging them in a certain order, for example, or repeatedly spin the wheels of a toy car or push a button on a toy.
Set Interests and Routines
Many autistic children have very set interests and routines. They won’t be keen to learn about or play with a variety of things and will instead have restricted focus. Kids on the spectrum often have an intense and singular passion for particular toys, objects or topics.
As well, you may notice they interact with items in only one way rather than using something in the many ways possible. For instance, autistic children might continually turn the wheels of a car but never pretend to drive it along the floor, up walls or guided through the air.
Similarly, autistic children are creatures of habit and like to have set routines. Changing the way that they eat, go to sleep or leave the house, for example, can really upset them and cause tantrums, screaming, panic attacks or other significant reactions.
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