Find Out The Early Warning Signs In Children Under The Age Of 2
Over the past 15 years, diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) among young children have grown tremendously. Children and adults with autism, a neurological disorder, typically have difficulty communicating and interacting socially with others.
Early intervention is crucial for effective treatment. The longer typical autism symptoms and behaviors exist without treatment, the more ingrained these traits become, making it more difficult to change them.
"The Invisibility Disability"
The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends that every child be screened for autism. While the symptoms of autism are formally measurable at 18 months, most parents can spot early-onset symptoms well before then. While their child seems healthy, something seems just not quite right.
Autism is sometimes referred to as the invisibility disability. Children with autism generally look normal in appearance, and to the untrained eye, their behavior may seem normal, too. After all, what’s so unusual about a child spinning around in circles or waving her hands in the air? Early detection of autism is so critical to improving it, so it’s important that parents know and recognize the early signs of autism.
While every child develops on a unique timeline, there are certain developmental milestones that fall within age categories. According to the AAP and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), children who have not reached the following important age-related milestones should "definitely and immediately" consult a developmental pediatrician to be evaluated for autism:
The First Sign
A study published in the April 2007 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that "the failure to turn or look in response to hearing one's name may be one of the earliest signs of autism."
At 6 months:
- not babbling or cooing
- not making eye contact
- not smiling when parents smile
- not mimicking sounds (vocal turn-taking)
- not responding to peek-a-boo
- not pointing or gesturing
- not attempting to speak
- not interested or aware of others
- oversensitive to sights, sounds, textures and smells
- repetitive body motions (hand flapping, rocking)
- fixated on or attached to a single object
- resistant to change in routine
- any loss of language or social skills
At 24 months:
- not initiating two-word phrases (but may echo certain words)
- may seem deaf at times, not hearing when others talk
- not wanting to be cuddled
- any loss of language, social or developmental skills
About 25% of autism cases are termed "regressive." These children appear normal as babies, but suddenly lose communication and social skills between the ages of 12 and 24 months.
Your pediatrician’s role
The AAP provides a practical resource for pediatricians that includes screening and surveillance tools, guideline summary charts, management checklists, developmental checklist, developmental growth charts, early intervention referral forms and tools, sample letters to insurance companies and family handouts.
Through the preschool years, doctors should do a developmental screening at every wellness visit. This screening involves questions related to normal development and the above warning signs. While developmental delays don’t automatically point to autism, they do indicate a risk. Regardless of whether autism or some other factor is causing the delay, a child won’t simply grow out of the problem. The child will need extra help and targeted treatment.
Even with growing awareness among clinicians and the general public, there is another serious obstacle to early intervention: parent denial. Even parents who feel something is just not right are hesitant to accept the lifelong sentence of autism for their otherwise healthy child. After the joy and relief of giving birth to a baby with ten fingers, ten toes, and Daddy’s blue eyes, learning that something may be wrong is almost too much to bear. How can a child who looks so normal be disabled? Parents of newly diagnosed children encounter a range of emotions – disbelief, grief, fear, and anger. Eventually, though, there is hope.
Chris Plauche Johnson, MD, Med, FAAP co-authored a clinical report by the AAP. “Autism doesn’t go away,” Johnson stated, “but therapy can help the child cope in regular environments. [Therapy] helps children want to learn and communicate.”
With early diagnosis and support, a child with autism will have greater self-esteem and a better chance at being successful in life.
Realize that there are a million "shades" along the autistic spectrum -- every child has his or her own unique set of symptoms and quirks. Not every autistic child will have all the signs mentioned above, while some neurotypical children can exhibit these traits. So don't panic if you're worried your little one may have autism. Talk to your child's caregiver if you have any concerns, and, if needed, be persistent in seeking an evaluation.
Read more about autism now:
- Autism therapies: What educational and medical interventions are available?
- The upside of autism: Joyful reflections from parents of autistic children
- Birth factors associated with risk for autism