Most parents of children diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder learn of their child’s condition only after the third birthday – and yet, signs of developmental challenges often present long before this.
Looking out for these signs is vital, as the effectiveness of treatment improves significantly with early intervention. Nonetheless, signals can also be difficult to detect, because autistic children develop as normal in all other aspects. For example, although they may not yet display appropriate social and emotional behavior, they usually meet all other milestones, such as sitting and crawling. It’s often only when their children haven’t started speaking that parents perceive a red flag.
While a baby who doesn’t show interest in faces, or who fails to make eye contact, react to sounds or show interest in baby games may need further investigation, it’s important to note that autism presents differently in each child. In every case, the number of symptoms, and their severity, may be different.
Here’s what to look out for:
· Not using gestures, such as shaking his head ‘no’ or nodding ‘yes’, waving goodbye or pointing to things he wants. By 16 to 18 months, most kids will point to focus your attention on objects that interest them, such as a new toy, for instance.
· Failure to use single words by 16 months, or two-word phrases by 24 months.
· Losing verbal or social skills. For example, the child may have previously babbled, spoken a few words or shown an interest in people, but these behaviours have now fallen away.
· Withdrawal. The child may appear to tune others out, and looks as though she is in her own world.
· Walking on her toes, or not walking at all.
· Playing with a part of a toy rather than the entire toy. For example, the child may take an intense interest in watching the wheels of a truck spin, but won’t attempt to play a game involving the truck.
· A need for routine and order, with a corresponding difficulty in handling change or dealing with transitions between activities.
· Obsessive interest in just a few activities.
· ‘Stereotypic behaviour’, including spinning, twirling fingers, swaying and rocking.
· An unusual response to stimuli. For example, it may appear that the child does not feel pain, yet is extremely sensitive to input such as smells, textures, lights and sounds. Alternatively, she may be entirely unaware of these inputs.
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