Parents know their own children better than anyone else, but sometimes that expertise gets lost in the sea of information available at our fingertips. Developmental milestones, growth charts, information from experts: they all can be confusing and overwhelming and make parents forget that they are the true experts on their own children. So if parents feel that something is simply not right with their child, they should move from worry to action. That means becoming educated about signs of developmental delays and becoming advocates for their children.
Autism has no one known cause and no known cure, but early detection of autism signs can lead to an early diagnosis. Early diagnosis is crucial in obtaining early intervention and treatment. Early intervention and treatment, in turn, can have a profoundly positive effect on the outcome of a child who has been diagnosed with autism.
So what should parents look for? Autism affects communication and social interaction. While delays in these areas are not the only signs of autism, they are hallmarks of the disorder. Very early signs of autism may include a baby’s failure to turn toward the source of sound or to be interested in looking at faces. Normally developing babies love to gaze at faces and will usually smile back at a smiling face around age 4 months.
A lack of joy in interacting with parents and caregivers, or failure to babble and coo when pleased, or cry when displeased, are early signs of autism.
Around 9 months, normally developing babies will make faces and sounds in reaction to those parents or caregivers make. If you baby is not interacting with you in this way, his failure to do so may be a sign of autism.
Most babies enjoy social games like peek-a-boo when they are around a year old, and they will use gestures to get your attention and make sounds to indicate that their needs are not being met. If you take away a favorite plaything and your baby does not verbally protest, he may have a delay in communication skills related to autism. If your baby does not look at you when you call him by name, he may be exhibiting a sign of autism.
By about 15 months, normally developing babies will use a few words, such as mama or dada or bye-bye. If your baby is not doing this, you may have cause to be concerned about his language development.
Baby’s use of language develops into using a gesture-and-verbalization combination to get what baby wants around age 18 months. Normally developing babies use about 10 words and start to engage in “pretend” games by this age as well.
If you baby is not understanding and using about 50 words by age 2, and using these words together in a telegraphic way (e. g. “more milk” or “want ball”), then this language delay may be a symptom of autism.
By age 3, the age by which most instances of autism are diagnosed, normally developing children will engage in more elaborate make-believe play, pretending to be various “actors” in scenarios and will start putting words together in ways that make sense.
Regardless of a child’s age, if he or she experiences a dramatic loss of skills he or she once had, you should be concerned that this loss of ability may be a sign of autism.
Certainly these items are not a comprehensive guide to autism symptoms, but they are hallmarks of normal development and what you should consider “red flags” of autism. If you sense that something just isn’t right about the way your child expresses herself, or if your child seems to lose skills he once had, then consult your pediatrician right away. Be prepared to provide specific examples of behaviors and to ask for a routine developmental screening. The more you know about autism and its symptoms, the better prepared you will be to obtain crucial early intervention and treatment for your child.