Autism is a fearful word for parents. The brain disorder affects the ability of a child to interact and speak with others. Kids are usually not diagnosed of autism until the age of two, but some children start showing signs and symptoms of autism even before reaching two.
For parents, especially new parents, it’s important to know the signs of autism. These are the red flags they need to watch for, to determine whether their child is at a risk for autism.
Here are the signs parents need to watch for, according to Dr. Rebecca Landa, a top researcher of autism, and director of Center for Autism & Related Disorders in Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore.
1. No connection
Even if too young for talking, typical children do various things to draw the attention of caregivers. They move their legs and arms, babble, smile, etc. If a child makes no effort for connecting to others, he/she may be at a risk for ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders).
2. Poor eye contact
Children should make eye contact, even the ones who are as young as two to three months old. By the age of one or two years, if your kid appears to be taking more interest in gazing at things (including your mouth), other than gazing at your eyes, take that as a red flag.
3. Absence of words
Babbling is not only cute, it is also a little one’s way of informing you that he/she is developing language skills. If a kid is not babbling by six months, or is babbling even after the age of six months, when the child should have begun using words, he/she might have ASD or some similar problem.
4. No recognition of name
By reaching six months, a child should quickly look up or respond when his/her name is called. If your kid fails to look up on being called, or looks up only sometimes, consider it as a red flag.
5. Lining up toys
Autistic children do strange things with their toys. They may line up the toys, flick or spin them, and they continue to do this, without an apparent purpose.
6. Arm flapping
One of the well-documented signs for autism is arm flapping. However, other types of postures and body movements may also indicate that there is a problem. If your kid stiffens his/her legs or arms repeatedly, or keeps twisting wrists, consider consulting a pediatrician.
7. Repeating words
Does your child habitually repeat all or part of what you speak? If yes, it’s a matter of concern. Some children parrot TV commercials or programs, instead of speaking words for communicating with others.
Besides these seven signs, parents should know some more things about ASD. A few of these are briefly discussed below:
The exact cause behind autism, or the reason behind the increase in number of children with autism in the recent years, is not known. Most of the researchers suspect that there is a genetic link. Kids with siblings having ASD, have more likelihood of having ASD. In case of identical twins, studies show that if one kid has ASD, the other child has ASD for about 60 – 96% of the time.
Some medical conditions, like fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome, may heighten ASD risk. Some medications that a mother takes during pregnancy, like SSRI antidepressants, may also increase ASD risk.
Diagnosis of ASD and early intervention:
Diagnosis of ASD at an early age is important, and so is early intervention. If your kid shows any kind of developmental delay, your pediatrician would perhaps refer him/her for treatment, even if your child is not diagnosed with autism. This is because it’s important to provide early intervention to kids with any type of developmental delay.
Meanwhile, your doctor would try to find out whether or not there are any other causes of developmental delays, like poor hearing. The doctor may refer your kid to a child psychologist, neurologist or developmental pediatrician, to conduct a formal diagnosis. These medical professionals would observe the communication difficulties, unusual and repetitive behavior, and poor social skills. In case, your kid meets the criteria outlined in “American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual”, he/she might be diagnosed with ASD.
There is no proven treatment for ASD till now. However, early intervention is highly effective and beneficial for autistic individuals. Earlier the treatment and therapies are started, the better the children would do. Some of the therapies about which some parents have reported that they have worked well for their autistic children, are Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and HBOT therapy. Consult your doctor to determine what type of therapies and treatments you should choose for your child with autism.
If you are a new parent, keep in mind the signs of autism. In case you find any one or more of them in your child, consult your pediatrician immediately. Early intervention is the key to reducing symptoms of autism to the maximum.
Chloe Paltrow has been working as a psychiatrist for the last 10 years, with Autism Spectrum Disorders as her main area of interest. Currently, she is studying how effective the hyperbaric oxygen therapy is in autism treatment, and is working as a part time psychiatrist at OxyHealth.