Approximately 1 in 68 children in the U.S. are on the autism spectrum, according to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 Yet most people don’t know how to recognize the early symptoms of the disorder.
Recognition is the first step toward finding an effective treatment that will work for you and your child. We’ve outlined some of the key early autism symptoms below.
Interacting with Others
The hallmark of autism is an impaired ability to interact with others. All infants are obviously limited in the ways that they can communicate with their caregivers, but they typically show interest in those around them and use gestures to indicate their wants and needs. Autistic children, on the other hand, often show little interest in interacting with others and may avoid interaction altogether. You may notice things like:
Lack of eye contact. Autistic children often don’t look at caregivers while interacting with them.
No mimicking adult behavior. Children naturally mimic the movements and facial expressions of the adults they see around them, but autistic children usually do not do this.
No pointing. Autistic children do not point to objects to ask for things or to indicate something of interest. They also have difficulty following when another person points at an object.
Doesn’t use common gestures. Autistic children typically do not wave hello or goodbye, or use other gestures common among children who are developing normally.
Doesn’t seek out interaction with others. Young children love to interact with others and to show off their toys and objects they find interesting. Autistic children, on the other hand, prefer to be alone and will not seek out interaction with others.
Language development begins early on in life. By about four months, most children begin babbling, and by one year, they can say one or two simple words. Autistic children may experience stunted language development, including:
Delayed or no babbling. Autistic children may not babble, or they may not begin doing so until much later on in their development.
Not responding to their name. By five to seven months, most infants recognize their own names and will look toward you if you call them. Autistic children often do not respond when others address them.
Regression. In some cases, children with autism may appear to develop normal language and social skills at first and then regress somewhat in their second year of life.
Autistic children also exhibit differences in the way they behave and interact with toys and objects around them. You may notice the following:
Repetitive behaviors. These may include things like rocking back and forth, flapping their hands, arranging and rearranging objects in a precise order or twirling around in circles.
Restricted range of activities. Autistic children may only play with a few specific toys, or they may be especially interested in one particular aspect of a toy, like the wheels on toy cars.
Upset by minor changes. Autistic children are easily upset by slight changes in their environment and may have strong emotional outbursts if things they are used to change unexpectedly.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Child May Have Autism
Don’t panic if your child shows a single symptom that’s listed above or if they appear to be slow in developing in a single area. This does not necessarily indicate that your child has autism. All children develop at their own pace and some take more time than others. But if you notice several of the behaviors listed above, you may want to speak to your doctor.
Children generally undergo developmental screenings as they grow, in order to ensure that they are developing normally. If your child’s pediatrician notices any troubling symptoms during this time, he or she may call for a more in-depth evaluation to determine whether your child has autism.
But you don’t have to wait for a doctor to say something. If you’re concerned by your child’s behavior, reach out and schedule an appointment. Don’t wait to see if the behavior will improve. The sooner you receive an accurate diagnosis, the sooner you can enroll your child in a treatment program, if necessary. Many of these programs are designed for young children, and they are most effective when you start early.
Having a child with autism can be a challenge, but by being proactive, monitoring your child’s development and speaking to your child’s pediatrician about your concerns and possible treatment options, you can help make things a lot easier on yourself and your child.
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1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). “CDC estimates 1 in 68 school-aged children have autism; no change from previous estimate.” Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov
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