Last summer, my son David and I met with some friends at our beach house. My son was so excited to spend some time with their little boy and play together that everything I heard that day was “Are they here yet?”, and “When will they arrive?”
After we met their son Patrick, David called his name and took his hand to show him his toys, but Patrick didn’t answer and, to our surprise, he started to cry. I found his reaction a little strange and didn’t understand it, but his parents explained his behaviour to me. He is autistic. I was surprised, but I also understood why he reacted the way he did.
His parents told us that they caught his autism really early, which is very important. But how did they do it? What did Patrick’s parents notice that was wrong with him? What were the signs?
As a parent, it’s hard to accept that your little bundle of joy has any problems at all. But when it comes to autism, catching its signs early makes a huge difference. It is very important for a parent to learn the early signs of autism and catch the disorder early, ideally by the age of eighteen months. So, here is how to recognize the early signs and symptoms of autism.
15 Doesn't Respond To Their Name
A normally developed child begins to respond to his name by 6 to 12 months of age. If he doesn’t respond to his name, many parents begin to worry. It is very difficult for adults to get their children’s attention, so this is a sign easy to notice. It also affects their social interactions as they may not be aware that someone else is talking to them.
Any parent should keep in mind that if a child is not responding to his name, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s autistic. He may just have a difficulty with this.
Not responding when he’s called means that the child may present social delays, and that’s an indication of autism. However, twenty percent of babies respond to their names, and later are diagnosed with autism.
14 Rarely Smiles At Parents
As a baby grows, around the age of six - eight weeks, he will start to smile at things that he enjoys like cuddles, voices, and other smiling faces. This is a reaction to the sensory experiences happening around him, and not a social response, since the baby is too little for that. Usually noises and expressions get babies to respond. They study their parents’ faces while they talk to them and try to imitate their smiles.
A baby with a development delay often will not respond to the smiles of their parents, or caregivers. A typically developing infant should smile back every time someone smiles at him.
If your baby is approaching the age of 12 months and does not smile back at you, then you should discuss with your pediatrician.
13 Delayed Or No Babbling
In the first two years of life babies learn to talk, and before their first words they begin producing their first sounds by using their tongue, lips, palate, and any emerging teeth. After the first ooh’s and aah’s in their first months, babies begin to babble making repetitive combinations of syllables, such as “da-da-da-da” or “ba-ba-ba-ba”. This happens at the age of around eight months, and it is a very important stage in developing speech. A twelve months old baby should also look at someone while he babbles. After this stage, a typically developing baby may produce some real words such as “mama” and “dada”.
For some babies this developmental milestone is delayed. If your baby has not started babbling by the age of 12 months, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician for a developmental screening.
12 Doesn't Gesture To Communicate
Besides their babbling sounds to communicate, eight to ten month old babies are also using gestures in their attempt to communicate. You can clearly see a baby gesturing when he points or touches different objects to get other attention to that specific item. Gesturing also happens when babies use pointing, and grabbing when they want something. Through their gestures they try to get others to grant their requests. At around 12 months of age, babies start to reach to be picked up, and shake their head when they don’t want something.
If a 12 months old child does not show any back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving he may have a developmental problem. If you notice that your child is not using gestures to try and communicate, consult your pediatrician. It may indicate a developmental problem.
11 Rarely Imitates Expressions
It’s really interesting that a newborn baby is already capable of imitating emotional expressions that he sees on his parents or caregivers. Many studies have showed that, by ten weeks of age, infants can respond when their mothers show expressions of happiness, or sadness by copying them. Typically developed babies try and mirror back their mothers’ expressions.
If a child isn’t trying to mimic his parents or caregivers through facial movements, it may indicate a developmental delay. A sign of autism could be when an infant doesn’t mimic other babies or imitate adults. If you see a lack of imitating your expressions in your baby you should have regular checkups with a pediatrician. Tracking your baby’s growth is important, especially if you notice any delay in the developmental milestones of your baby.
10 Doesn't Reach Up For Mom
One of the most wonderful moments is when your child is reaching up for you, and his fingers aren’t curled anymore into tiny little fists. This means he is beginning to recognize who you are, and that he can trust you. Usually, when a typically developed baby reaches out for an adult it means he wants to be picked up and cuddled. Around three months of age, babies may begin to reach also for the fascinating objects around them.
When you reach for your child to pick him up, your little one should respond by reaching back up toward you. If you notice a delay in this developmental milestone, make an appointment with your pediatrician. It is one of the signs for autism diagnosis, so you have to pay attention at this milestone, too.
9 Doesn't Want Attention
We, as human beings, are social creatures who want to interact. We like to give attention to others and also want attention from those around us. When a toddler is seeking attention of his parents he may actually need that attention. That means he actually noticed his parents, and that they are an important part of his life.
A normally developed child should initiate cuddling or make noises to get his parents’ attention. When he wants to be picked up, he will try to reach for his parent or caregiver. When a child is not seeking for a loved one’s attention, and trying to bond with his parents it may mean that he is having difficulty relating to others.
If you see that your child has a disinterest in seeking your love and attention, you may want to check this developmental delay with your pediatrician.
8 Doesn't Make Eye Contact
Another big moment in your baby’s developmental milestones is when your baby’s eyes first meet your own. It is such a heartwarming moment for us, parents, and we eagerly await for this day to come.
At around six to eight weeks of age, babies should make their first eye contact with their parents. This shows that a baby’s neurological development is progressing normally. A baby’s eye contact means that he knows what a face is and understands his parents’ facial expressions.
An autistic child may have trouble making eye contact with the people around him, and tends not to look at his parents. When your baby doesn’t make eye contact with you on a regular basis and shy away from eye contact, you should discuss this problem with a doctor.
7 Doesn't Play Well With Toys
Babies start to play with toys in their first year of age. First they grab the toy and bring it to their mouth to taste it. Then they pay attention to the toy’s shape, size and the feeling of the surface with their little fingers. As they grow, children start using toys to play with them in their different games.
When a child doesn’t know how to play with his toys, or uses a toy for something else then it is designed to be used, it can be an indication of a delayed developmental milestone. If you see your child playing with a toy fork but not pretending to eat with it, it should indicate a problem. Another indication of autism while playing with toys is when a child is fascinated only by parts of toys, instead of the whole toy.
6 Has Unusual Body Movements
A typically developing child is getting better and better at using different things, like throwing balls, playing cards or driving electric cars. A child at risk for autism might make unusual movements, such as moving their hand or fingers in an odd and repetitive manner. If an autistic child is trying to throw a ball, he may do some strange movements after he throws it. This repetitive movement is called “stimming” and it’s a classic sign of autism. Children with repetitive movements can be rocking back and forth, flap their hands, bounce on their toes, rotate their hands on the wrists, and many other repetitive behaviors.
If you see your child doing some of these unusual body movements, talk to a doctor. Strange body movements may be a sign of autism.
5 Isn't Developing In Motor Skills
A baby will mostly just wiggle his little arms and legs in his crib. In his first year he learns to roll over, crawl, and walk, learning to coordinate and control his movements. A five month old baby can use his arms to push off, and is beginning to roll over. Between seven and ten months of age, babies may begin to crawl. After a baby learns to crawl, he will learn to sit up. This usually happens between six to eight months of age.
If you suspect that something may be wrong with your child regarding motor development, you should immediately talk to you pediatrician. Identifying delays early in your child’s development may help because doctors can begin intervention when your child’s brain is more malleable and still developing.
4 Doesn’t Engage In “Joint Attention”
“Joint attention” is an action when a child joins you to watch the same activity, or look at the same object. A typical baby can shift his gaze from the objects to the people surrounding him. Joint attention suggests that the baby has ability to share something with someone else. How does this work? Well, if a child is looking at an airplane in the sky he will shift gaze at his mother as if to say “Do you see that too?” Joint attention is also a great part of language learning. Children who can often share things with others learn to speak faster.
A child with autism will often not look in the direction that someone else is pointing at, so if you see any of these developmental issues on your child, get him to the doctor.
3 Doesn’t Engage In “Pretend Play”
At the age of around two or three years, a child can play pretend. “Pretend play” means imitating and pretending through play. A mother can play with her daughter by pretending that a banana is a telephone, pretending that a doll is mommy and another doll is her baby, or by imitating an animal. “Pretend play” can also be a learning experience, because a parent can teach how to behave in different situations through this type of game. It is a very important type of game in the development of a child.
Autistic children are less likely to join their parents or caregivers in “pretend play” with objects. They pay attention to objects differently than a typical child does. They do use objects but they don’t do imaginative play with them. Seek the help of a pediatrician if you see that your child does not engage in “pretend play”.
2 Has Sensory Problems
An autistic child may perceive sensory stimuli very differently than a typically developed child. He may under or over react to them. There are times when an autistic child may ignore you when you’re speaking to him, and he may even appear to be deaf. Other times he may be very disturbed by even the softest sound, or may get upset at the common ring of a phone.
If you see you child covering his ears when your phone is ringing, it may mean a developmental problem. He may also make repetitive noises to stop hearing the offending sound.
Touch and texture may also represent a problem for children with autism. If you pat the the back an autistic child he may cringe. Besides sound, touch and texture, an autistic child may seem indifferent to temperature or pain.
1 Doesn’t Respond Emotionally
A child learns to express and manage his feelings. This means that he’s emotionally intelligent. A major autism symptom is lacking emotional intelligence. Typical babies usually respond to one another emotionally, and are very sensitive to others’ emotions. They smile in return of another smile, or cry when another child cries near him.
An autistic child may experience difficulty in expressing his emotions. He may start to cry, or may become aggressive and break things, or harm himself for no apparent reason. Also a child with autism may remain unfazed by real dangers, so if your child may seem unaffected when a car drives by him very fast, it may indicate a sign of autism. He may also be terrified by harmless objects around him. Call your doctor and make an appointment as soon as you see anything out of the ordinary.
Sources: KidsHealth.org, HelpGuide.org, AutismAcademyed.com, ParentingCounts.org