How to Spot Autism Spectrum Disorder

Updated at: Jan 18, 2013
How to Spot Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism is a complex developmental disorder which appears in infancy and early childhood and causes problems in three major areas of development — social interaction, language and behavior.

Dr Poonam Sachdev
Other DiseasesWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Jan 18, 2013

Autism is a complex developmental disorder which appears in infancy and early childhood and causes problems in three major areas of development — social interaction, language and behavior. The three characteristic or defining features of autism include;

  • Problems or difficulty with social interactions
  • Impaired verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Pattern of repetitive behavior with narrow, restricted interests

Most children with autism show some symptoms of delayed development by 18 months. As a parent, you may find it difficult to believe that your bundle of joy has a problem. But remember that ignoring a problem is not going to make it go away. In autism, early diagnosis and start of treatment at a younger age makes a huge difference. Experts consider that younger your child, the greater is the impact of treatment on symptoms of autism. Hence watching for signs of developmental delay in babies and toddlers is considered important.

Early detection of autism depends on parents

Every child is different and develops at his own pace, but there are certain milestones which they should definitely achieve by a certain age.  As a parent you should educate yourself to know what’s normal and what’s not. If you are concerned about your child’s development share your concerns with a doctor immediately. Don’t wait or ignore them. If your doctor does not pay attention to your concerns or finds nothing wrong after an examination----seek a second opinion. Remember that a parent can note the earliest warning signs of autism or developmental delays. Your doctor can help you but your own observations and experience are most important.

Signs and symptoms of autism in babies and toddlers

Detection and start of treatment of autism in infancyis important as it can take advantage of the brain’s remarkable plasticity. The symptoms of autism start between 12 and 18 months and if the signs are detected by 18 months of age, intensive treatment can be started early. Some of the early signs of autism in babies and toddlers include;

  • Fails to make eye contact (e.g. does not look at you when you feed or play).
  • Doesn't smile when you smile at him
  • Does not show response to his name or to the sound of a known voice.
  • Fails to follow objects visually.
  • Doesn't point at objects or use other gestures to communicate.
  • Doesn’t wave goodbye
  • Doesn’t follow the gesture when you point things out.
  • Doesn’t make noises to seek attention.
  • Doesn’t cuddle and does not like being cuddled.
  • Doesn’t imitate your movements and facial expressions while playing
  • Doesn’t play make-believe or doesn't try to mimic behavior of adults when playing
  • Remains aloof and prefers to play alone (doesn’t play with other people)
  • Doesn’t initiate conversation, and does not ask for help.

If your child shows any of the above signs and symptoms seek advice. If your child has developmental delay it does not mean he has autism, it just indicates a heightened risk.

Some delays in infants and toddlers which warrant an immediate evaluation by your child’s pediatrician include;

  • By 6 months of age does not give big smiles or doesn’t share other warm, joyful expressions.
  • By 9 months fails to have back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions.
  • By 12 months does not respond to name, does not babble (or “baby talk”).
  • By 12 months does not show by gestures, such as pointing, reaching, or waving.
  • By 16 months has no spoken word.
  • By 24 months does not say meaningful two-word phrases that don’t involve imitating or repeating.

Some signs of autism in an older child include;

  • The child seemsself-absorbed, and appears to live in his private world or is oblivious to surroundings
  • Likes to play alone (does not make friends with peers)
  • doesn't interact well with others and does not want to share experiences or emotions with you or other people (family and caregivers)
  • Does not start conversation or keep it going (is uncommunicative – both verbal and non-verbal communication such as hand gestures, eye contact, and facial expression)
  • Finds it difficult to understand meaning of even simple words and sentences.
  • Finds it difficult to speak or use words correctly especially while communicating/talking with other people.
  • Does not adapt well to changes in routines or rituals and becomes disturbed at the slightest change in them
  • Does repetitive or compulsive actions such as rocking, spinning, banging or hand-flapping

Early detection of autism —ideally by the age of eighteen months—can improve prognosis. It may help to interrupt its development and minimize problems. But just because your child is older don’t lose hope as proper treatment can reduce the impact of autism and your child can learn, grow, and thrive.




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