The usual “red flags” that warn of early signs of autism in babies are a baby’s failure to make eye contact or to smile or otherwise, react to parents or caregivers.
A recent study, though, conducted by the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities and published in the September 2009, issue of Pediatrics, has found other symptoms of autism.
Signs of Autism
The study consisted was of babies who were in the neonatal intensive care unit after birth, and found that those children who were later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have abnormal muscle tone and differences in visual processing than those who were not later diagnosed with ASD.
Although parents are usually the first to notice the more traditional signs of autism in children, these subtle differences in muscle tone and visual processing were so subtle as to be, something parents would probably not have spotted.
The study was of 28 babies who had spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit who were then later diagnosed with ASD. These babies were matched with a control group of 112 babies who did not have ASD. The behavior of both groups was tested at 1 and 4 months and then periodically until the children were about 2 years old.
1 to 4 Months
At the one-month evaluation, the infants later diagnosed with ASD were “more likely to show ‘persistent neurobehavioral abnormalities’” and about 40% of those with ASD showed abnormalities in their visual tracking of objects.
Also, more than fifty percent of the babies later diagnosed with ASD had either too floppy or too rigid arm tone. Of the babies who developed normally, only 22 % had this abnormal tone. At the 4 month, evaluation the infants who were later diagnosed with autism preferred showed a preference for higher amounts of visual stimulation.
Study co-author Ira Cohen, chair of the psychology department at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities, states that the preference for visual stimulation “fits in anecdotally with what we see later on. Kids with autism like looking at moving things in front of their eyes, such as flapping hands or following contours.”
7 to 10 Months
The 7 to 10-month evaluations revealed that those babies later diagnosed with ASD showed a decline in motor and thinking skills, and by about 13 months, there was an obvious divergence in the development of the two groups.
While the study is significant in its findings and implications for early intervention, the researchers stress that the study group was of infants from the NICU and that additional studies need to be performed on children who were born healthy at full term.
Regardless, the authors of the study conclude and reiterate that early autism intervention – by age 2 – is the best course of action for a positive outcome.
Reading about the signs of and behaviors associated with autism can offer parents a useful overview of the disorder. Being able to see what autism looks like is even more useful in gaining an understanding of this complex disorder.
We hear so much about autism in the media these days that it is easy to get overwhelmed with information and be unsure about whether our children could be affected. Autism is complex, and no two children with the same diagnosis will present with the same symptoms. Knowing – or not knowing — just what kinds of behaviors to look for can be confusing and frightening.
An excellent resource for visual representations of autism is The ASD Video Glossary, AutismNavigator, and FirstWords and accessible through all of these organizations’ websites. This video glossary provides clear, straightforward videos of a number of autism-related topics.
The Overview section includes a video of what different children with autism look like as they go about their play. There is also a video that presents the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for autism.
This video explains briefly but thoroughly how all criteria (delays in communication, restricted and repetitive behaviors, and deficits in social reciprocity) present themselves and shows examples of these deficits.
There is a series of videos demonstrating the non-verbal behaviors associated with autism: eye gaze, facial expressions, body postures, and gestures.
This is followed by a series of videos on expressive and receptive language and a series on restrictive patterns of interest. A series on over-reaction to sensory input rounds out the available videos.
These videos are brief, and many show a typically developing child’s behavior in these areas by way of comparison to those with “red flags” for autism.
There are links to sections on treatments and outcomes which are not yet loaded, but the site states they are “coming soon.”
The videos are brief and informative, and registration for this free service is simple. Once you register, you have immediate access to the videos.
Because autism is so complex, these visual guides are extremely helpful in helping parents to understand what autism looks like in the developing child.