You hear about Autism in the news almost every day. You know that one in 150 children is diagnosed with Autism. You worry about your toddler’s behavior and secretly wonder if he is progressing normally. What signs mean a possible Autism Spectrum disorder?
Here are some signs to watch for that need more evaluation and, possibly, early intervention.
Word of caution: if your tot displays one or more of these symptoms, it does not automatically mean she has an Autistic condition. It merely shows the need for further investigation by the pediatrician, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and/or other experts as needed.
Little or no eye contact
Most children lock eyes with you and break out into smiles, coos, or laughter. You know she is interacting and thriving on the attention. The Autistic child avoids eye contact or it is poor at best. Even though he sees you, he does not look at your face when you speak but regards you as another noise in his environment. .
The child does not key into the stimulation provided by ordinary life and makes up for it by self-stimulation activities. He may repeatedly spin his plate like a top. He likes to flick things like a drinking straw or his hands back and forth in front of his eyes or sway his head or body for prolonged periods. Each child displays this behavior in her own way.
Lack of social engagement.
Babies love to please their parents or other familiar persons. They smile and coo and you see their eyes light up with joy. They like hugs, and love it when someone talks to or reads to them.
Autistic children seldom acknowledge you. They think of others only as a means to get something they need now. Some experts say that if a child does not play “peek-a-boo” by nine months of age, there is cause for concern. Some social workers tell parents, “He/she will never love you.”
Most children are eager to show parents something they did. Perhaps they drew a picture, created something with clay, or built something with Legos and seek your approval. Your child never shows you anything.
Little or no speech.
Every child is different. Some children do not talk until they have something important to say, then start speaking in whole sentences and you can’t shut them up after that. When normal children start speaking, their vocabulary quickly increases; they progress to sentences, and later start understanding abstract concepts such as love.
If your child is non-verbal, only speaks a few words, does not use sentences, or displays other speech abnormalities, such as echolalia, tell your pediatrician. It may be due to hearing loss, aphasia, or other conditions.
Echolalia means that a child repeats things he hears on TV or other places that have no bearing on what is happening. Examples: “you’re fired, call my lawyer, PG 13 on channel 13”.
Child does not point.
Normal children point to what they want before they can actually say it while the autistic child may only grunt, cry, or throw a tantrum.
Lack of creative or pretend play.
Toys and games do not open up worlds of imagination to an Autistic child the way it would to “normal” children
Watch a child at play. She feeds her dolly a bottle, puts her to bed, and sings to her. Another child builds a city with blocks, runs his toy cars over the road between the buildings, or moves a truckload of dirt around a sandbox or builds a house with twigs and stones.
Your child may play with a toy car by turning it upside down and constantly spinning the wheels. He might put his toys in a line and react angrily if someone moves one or show fanatical attachment to one object to the exclusion of others. Bring abnormalities in play to the pediatrician’s attention.
Your little one is talking, connecting with you and others, engaging in pretend play, pointing, and you think all is well. Suddenly, or gradually, he stops doing these things. He retreats into his own little world and displays Autistic like behaviors. Of course, this may have other causes, but you should tell your pediatrician about it as soon as possible.
You, the parent, know your child best. The pediatrician only sees him infrequently for a short time. If you believe there is something not right about your child’s development, act on this feeling and tell the pediatrician. She can decide what steps to take. In some cases, early intervention, special diets, behavior modification techniques, or even a specialized school help your little one seem more normal and lead to a happier life for both him and your family.