Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex, lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that affects a person's ability to communicate and engage in social interaction. Just as no two people without autism are the same, no two people who live with autism are affected in the same way. Discovering that your child will spend their life living with autism is not a disaster, it just means that you and your family will have to find ways to adapt to this different way of thinking and being.
Broadly speaking, children who live with autism do not automatically pick up how to read nonverbal social cues and often need help learning how to interact in the same ways as other people. Other difficulties can include problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, obsessive or repetitive behaviors, strongly focused interests, or difficulty in adjusting to changes in routine.
If you suspect autism may be responsibile for differences in your child's development, you should speak to your doctor and ask to see a specialist pediatrician as soon as possible. Early detection and diagnosis can ensure your child receives the additional complex supports they need. It can be challenging to diagnose in a child under two because many symptoms are also things babies without autism do, for instance:
15 Not Returning Your Smiles
Before six and eight weeks, babies smile spontaneously, not in response to you. This is why your little one will lay in her crib and entertain you with comical facial expressions and on again, off again grins. These smiles, although endearing, mean absolutely nothing more than your baby’s muscles are twitching, either for no reason or in response to something internal such as wind.
At some point between one and a half and two months, the majority of babies will get to grips with the concept of the “social smile.”
This is the one you have been waiting for, the moment you smile at your baby and they smile back.
Although many children with autism do not return social smiles, plenty of others do. The absence of or presence of a social smile doesn't mean your child will or will not be living with autism.
14 Ignoring Loud Noises
Another instinctive reaction is the startle response. This is the way in which your brain and body respond to sudden stimuli such as a loud noise and is entirely different to the Moro reflex that newborns have that cause their arms to fly outwards when they have the sensation of falling.
Where the Moro reflex disappears, the startle response stays with us for life and was an essential survival mechanism, allowing our ancestors to react quickly when they heard a potential threat.
Those people who live with autism often appear to be without this response entirely or at the very least have a muted reaction to sudden loud noises. However, many children without autism, especially young ones, may become so engrossed in a task or something of interest that they do not seem to notice the dog barking or the dropping of a saucepan.
13 Ignoring You When You Call Their Name
Most of the baby milestones articles will tell you that it is typical for a baby to begin responding to their name at some point between four and seven months. A baby who responds to their name will turn to look at whoever is saying it, or smile at the sound.
Although many babies do hit this milestone in the prescribed period, it is not unusual for some children to pass seven months with no sign of doing so.
This could be for many reasons. The first, and most likely, is that you are not using your little one's name enough for them to have made the connection between that sound and themselves. You may be saying “I love you” to your baby frequently but try saying “I love you” and add their name at the end. It is also very possible they are just too interested in what they are doing to turn around and see what mom wants.
12 Maintaining Silence
People are often under the impression that children with autism do not talk and that if your child is babbling and cooing, they cannot have autism; this is not so. The amount of sound and the timing of your child's vocal development may be an indicator, but it does not necessarily reflect your child’s speech at a later date.
Our eldest son barely made a sound, except regular crying, until he was two years old. Then his first word was “ball,” and he had few other words. Then it was like someone turned on a tap that we have been unable to switch off since. Our standing joke at home is that if we knew he wasn’t going to pause for breath when he was talking for the next twenty years, we would have appreciated his two years of silence more.
Our other son was diagnosed with autism at a much later age than most, despite his late speech, just because it is so common for children to be late talkers.
11 Playing Alone
Human beings, as a whole, are inherently social creatures. Babies are biologically designed to elicit attention with their big round eyes, and they learn many social skills through playing, first with their parents and then with other children.
Some children are naturally less social. They do not enjoy loud, rowdy, or rough play in the same way their peers might.
Many children are much happier quietly exploring their environment by themselves or sitting playing with one or two toys.
Many parents worry when they discover they have a quiet child, especially if they, as parents, are more outgoing.
It is entirely natural for some children to want to play alone, it may just be who they are, but it may also be an indicator of autism. Children with autism are often more content to play by themselves because they have difficulty with the complexities of social interaction.
10 Displaying Repetitive Behaviours
Repetition is essential to learning and as babies we learn the lessons of cause and effect by doing the same things over and over again. A smaller child may bang a toy repeatedly against a surface because they have made the connection between a movement they are making and the sound that is produced. An older baby might enjoy pressing a button on a toy and hearing the sound that is created. This is all regular developmental behavior. If your child is doing the same thing over and over it is likely they are learning or just gaining enjoyment from their actions.
Repetitive behavior should only become a concern if it appears to be the only source of interest for your baby or if you are consistently unable to engage your child in other activities.
9 Not Gesturing
Many people do not realize what a socially complex and vital gesture pointing to something is. When we point, it is a shorthand for saying “Look! There is something I want to share with you, and it is over there. Please look at it.”
When your child reaches this social milestone, they are demonstrating that they are not only finding things of interest but also that they want to share them with people who are essential in their lives.
Some children may not point things out because it is not a gesture they have seen others do or because they are slower to reach that stage,
but a failure to develop this social shorthand is another possible indicator of autism spectrum disorder. Children with autism are less likely to instinctively think to share something with others.
8 Crying When You Play Peek-A-Boo
Peek-A-Boo is a game that parents around the world play with their children, and they have done so throughout history. Most children quickly learn that mom or dad are disappearing behind an object and that they will soon appear with a beaming smile and a funny sound. The excitement and anticipation waiting for that reappearance become an enjoyable part of the game.
People living with autism can quickly feel overwhelmed by some of the emotions other people enjoy, and excitement and anticipation are two of the most frequently troublesome ones.
It is natural for your child to be unsure and possibly even cry when you first play peekaboo with them because they do not understand what is happening but if your child continues to dislike it, it may be because they are having difficulty coping with and processing the emotions involved.
7 Reacting Strongly To Particular Sounds
As adults, we have learned to overcome our body's natural defense system when it comes to loud noises or certain types of sound. Our brains are preprogrammed to react to these noises with fear and to respond with evasive actions. In babies, this response is to scream, alerting their caregiver that something is wrong and that mom or dad must come quickly. As we grow, we discover that the sound of the vacuum cleaner or a loud exhaust does not pose an imminent threat of harm and we learn to just roll with the sounds.
Until they have developed this ability to ignore, our children will react strongly to loud and sudden noise, and this is natural.
If your child continues to respond with strong emotions to particular sounds they should have become accustomed to, it might be because the sound is causing sensory overload, a common symptom of autism.
6 Fixating On A Toy
The majority of baby toys are designed explicitly to engage your little one by grabbing their attention and attempting to hold it. This is a good thing and promotes engagement with the world and all sorts of other learning opportunities.
As a consequence, plenty of children become fixated on a particular toy and want to play with it all of the time. As he grows older, your child might seek out a specific item to play with, or he might only go to bed if he has that one particular toy by his side.
This is not something to worry about, most of the time. It is how your child plays with that toy that may be an indicator that you should watch them carefully. A child who, for example, will only play with a particular item, banging it repeatedly for sustained periods of time and appearing to have no enjoyment from the process, might be displaying behaviors suggesting autism.
5 Rocking Back And Forth
It is not unusual for a child, at around the age of six months or later, to discover that rocking their body back and forth can be soothing. This might be in the form of a gentle, barely perceptible movement of the shoulders and head or it may be a dramatic motion of most of the upper body.
This is not unusual and is nothing to worry about and, as with many things it is more important to observe and discover the why behind the behavior than becoming concerned about the action itself.
Some children rock as a way to help themselves fall asleep, others sing or hum a tune in their heads and subconsciously rock in rhythm,
while others may engage in this behavior because they are unable to express what they are feeling and need a way to help themselves feel better.
Rocking can also be a sign of autism, and if it is seen in conjunction with other symptoms, then it is worthwhile to speak with your doctor.
4 Repeating A Single Noise
As we have said previously, babies learn by repetition, and this is especially true when it comes to their ability to talk. In order to learn to speak, your baby must not only hear some speech on a clear and consistent basis, but they must also master the complicated movements of the muscles involved in creating the myriad of sounds that go together to form words.
For this reason, you will often hear a baby making the same sound over and over. These first sounds are frequently ma-ma or da-da, tricking us into believing our little ones are using words when, in fact, they are just perfecting their muscle control.
If your youngster appears to have become stuck using a single sound over and over, to the exclusion of other sounds, then this could be a symptom of autism.
3 Staring At Their Fingers
As your baby passes the two-month mark, their eyesight begins to improve, and the eye muscles gain strength so that items further away come into focus. At this stage, it is not unusual for a baby to stare at their caregiver for sustained periods of time.
A month or so later your little one will have noticed her hands and will come to understand that they are attached to her body and under her control. This can make the hands and fingers fascinating to some babies.
A baby might spend considerable amounts of time waving their hands back and forth or wiggling their fingers. This is both a good source of amusement and a significant learning activity.
Autism may be a possibility if your child gets older and doesn't grow out of a finger fixation, especially when other toys are offered or if they do not seem to be happy when playing with their hands.
2 Pushes Away From Cuddles
Nature has programmed us to look at a baby and want to look after it. This is the universe's way of making us keep our vulnerable little ones safe and keep our species going. Likewise, babies are born to crave those cuddles because by sticking close to an adult, they are safer. As we develop, we associate this physical sensation of touching, hugging, and cuddling, with the emotional satisfaction of being loved and loving someone in return, and so we enjoy hugs.
This does not mean that everyone is as naturally “huggy” as everybody else. Having five children, I can conclusively say that each one of them was different in terms of how touchy-feely they were when they were little, so if your child is not a hugger it is not a rejection or a red flag on its own, it is simply who he is.
Many children with autism do not enjoy cuddles because feeling the emotions and the sensory input all at once is too much for them. It is not a rejection but a response to being overwhelmed. On the flip side, our youngest son lives with autism, and I have never met anyone who loves to hug and be cuddled more than him.
1 Gets Into Dangerous Situations
How do we know not to try to walk along the railing of a high platform? It is a combination of being told not to do it by those who care for us and the instinctive fear we might have in situations that our brains perceive as dangerous. Fear is our bodies way of shouting “Stop.”
Some kids are natural daredevils, and you will find yourself having to keep a close eye on them at all times and repeatedly drill into them the dangers of everything. Once they reach adulthood, a few of these kids will continue to pursue dangerous activities because they enjoy the chemical hit they receive from their brain, which is how YouTube manages to keep us entertained, but that doesn’t mean these people all have autism.
Children with autism can end up in dangerous situations not because they understand and are seeking the chemical hit the thrill of danger gives them but because
they may have difficulty applying the cause and effect of one situation to another.
For example, a child with autism may learn not to touch the cooker because they have done so in the past and have burned themselves but they will not automatically associate that lesson with not touching the fireplace.
References: autism.org.uk, kidshealth.org, kerrysplace.org, emergingminds.ca, webmd.com, autismcanada.org, autismservices.ca, autismspeaks.org, autisticadvocacy.org, autismacceptancemonth.com, autism-society.org, carautismroadmap.org, ucdmc.ucdavis.edu, actcommunity.ca, kidsbehaviour.co.uk