Many new parents are concerned about the risk for autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 1 in 59 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With such prevalence, however, comes an increased focus on research and treatment. Clinical studies show that early diagnosis and intervention for children who have ASD has a significant positive impact on long-term development. If you’re worried about the high risk of autism, be aware of these 10 early autism signs.
Early Autism Symptoms
According to the National Autism Association, the condition can sometimes be diagnosed by age 2, with most children who have ASD showing symptoms by age 3. Some of the earliest warning signs, which may be evident in infants and young toddlers, include:
- Lack of social
response. This may include failure to respond to or imitate parents’ and loved ones’ smiles and facial expressions, lack of eye contact and limited interaction. For example, when a parent points to an object, the child doesn’t look at it.
- Limited emotional interaction. He or she may avoid physical contact and dislike being comforted. Children with ASD may not respond to the emotional reactions of others.
- Object fixation. Babies as young as six months may be more interested in looking at objects than at people. Toddlers may line up toys and other objects or focus on parts of an object rather than the whole. Older children may develop intense and unusual interests.
- Failure to reach developmental milestones. For example, most one-year-olds have favorite people and objects, can say a few words and respond to and make simple requests such as handing you a toy when they want to play. Most two-year-olds mimic other children and caregivers, are beginning to play with other children and can speak in short sentences.
- Problems with speech. Children who have ASD may have delayed or absent speech. Sometimes, they show regression in speech, such as losing words they once used. Some children develop
echolalia,or the repetition of words and phrases. Others may have near-perfect memory about a specific topic, such as numbers, songs or TV show dialogue.
- Difficulty communicating. Children who have ASD may be unable or unwilling to communicate with others, or experience challenges when doing so. This can include not using or responding to common gestures such as waving, mixing up the meanings of pronouns such as you and me, not responding to his or her name and not starting or responding to conversations. Children who do not respond to someone calling his or her name may respond to other sounds, such as a car horn.
- Repetitive b
ehaviors. Some children who have autism engage in compulsive jumping, twirling, rocking or hand flapping. Others tend to pace or be hyperactive and unable to sit still.
- Reliance on rituals and routines. Although all young children thrive on a regular schedule, a child who has ASD may be unable to tolerate even the smallest disruptions to their routine.
- Extreme sensitivity. ASD often occurs with sensory issues. Children may be unable to tolerate loud sounds or bright lights, reject certain foods or only eat a few specific items. Uncomfortable clothing can be extremely irritating for some children who have ASD. Instead of oversensitivity, some children who have ASD demonstrate limited sensitivity. For example, they may seem impervious to pain and ignore safety and danger warnings. Phobias are common, including unusual fears.
- Physical and behavioral challenges. This can include impulsiveness, aggressive behavior, short attention span, self-injury, temper tantrums, insomnia or fatigue and/or clumsiness and lack of coordination.
When To Take Action
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for ASD by their pediatricians at the 18-month and 24-month well-baby visits. Some doctors also screen for autism at the 9-month visit. Autism therapies are now available for children as young as 12 months, with treatment currently in development for 9-month-old infants according to the Autism Science Foundation (ASF).
ASF also reports that about half of children ages 3 to 5 who have been diagnosed with ASD and complete an evidence-based early intervention program are able to enter a mainstream kindergarten classroom. If you have noticed early autism signs, you should talk to your child’s doctor about these concerns. He or she will examine your child and make a referral for further evaluation and treatment if necessary.