If you’re a parent, caregiver, or teacher, you might wonder what the early signs of autism are. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. It’s important to note that every child with ASD is unique, and symptoms can vary widely in severity and presentation. However, some common signs and behaviors may indicate a child is at risk for or has ASD.
Early Signs of Autism: Recognizing the Red Flags in Children
One of the earliest signs of ASD is a lack of or delay in language development. Children with ASD may not babble, coo, or gesture as babies and may not speak their first words until after age 1. They may also have difficulty with conversation skills, such as taking turns or understanding nonverbal cues like facial expressions.
Other early signs of ASD include repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping or spinning objects, and a preference for sameness or routine. Some children with ASD may also have sensory sensitivities, such as being bothered by certain sounds or textures.
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The earlier you identify the symptoms, the better your chances of seeking early intervention programs and therapies. Here, we’ll explore the early signs of autism and how to spot them.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. It is called a “spectrum” disorder because the symptoms and severity can vary widely from person to person. Some people with ASD may have mild symptoms, while others may have more severe symptoms that significantly impact their daily lives.
What is Autism?
ASD is a neurological and developmental disorder usually appearing in the first two years of life. Difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors characterize it.
People with ASD may struggle to understand social cues and communicate with others. They may also have repetitive behaviors like hand flapping, rocking, or spinning.
ASD is more common in boys than girls, and the exact cause is unknown. However, scientists believe that there are multiple causes of ASD that act together to change the most common ways people develop.
Symptoms and Characteristics of Autism
The symptoms of ASD can vary widely from person to person. Some people with ASD may have mild symptoms, while others may have more severe symptoms that significantly impact their daily lives. Some common symptoms and characteristics of ASD include:
- Delayed language skills
- Delayed movement skills
- Difficulty understanding social cues
- Difficulty communicating with others
- Repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping, rocking, or spinning
- Obsessive interests
- Must follow certain routines
- Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
- Avoiding eye contact
- Preferring to look at objects rather than people
- Showing a strong preference to be alone
- Having extreme difficulty with small changes in daily routines or surroundings
- Repeating words or phrases without meaning (like a parrot)
Main Signs of Autism
A little more detail and some examples of these signs of Autism can be found below.
Lack of eye contact: One of the earliest signs of autism in infants and toddlers is the lack of eye contact. If a child avoids looking directly at you or isn’t interested in making eye contact, there might be a concern.
The inability to make eye contact can continue throughout early childhood and adolescence. Children with autism may prefer looking at objects rather than people’s faces.
Delayed speech and language development: Infants start babbling around 6-8 months. However, children with autism may not start babbling or making sounds until much later.
Delayed language acquisition is often one of the earliest concerns raised by parents of children with ASD. Moreover, a toddler with autism may not respond to their name or other auditory cues.
Repetitive behaviors: Repetitive behaviors are common in children with autism. These may include hand flapping, rocking back and forth, or spinning in circles. Such behaviors are often calming to the child with autism, providing them with self-soothing.
Social interaction: A typical child might make a smile or hug with another person who approaches them. Children who struggle with autism may not show facial expressions, may not share their reactions, and may not understand social cues. They may show a lack of interest in playing with other children or socializing with group play.
Sensory issues: Children with autism can have problems processing sensory information. They might get distressed when there is too much brightness, loud noise, or overwhelming smells. They can prefer either very cold or hot temperatures or love repeating actions such as flushing the toilet.
Early Intervention for Autism
It is important to note that not all people with ASD will have all of these symptoms, and some people may have additional symptoms not listed here. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have ASD, it is important to seek a professional evaluation from a qualified healthcare provider.
Early intervention is crucial for the best outcomes for children with autism. Hence, by raising awareness and identifying early signs, you can help children get evaluated and receive support as soon as possible.
Remember that symptoms can vary in severity, and you know your child best. So, If you’re concerned that your child might have autism, be sure to consult with your pediatrician or other professional with experience.
Early intervention services, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy, can help children with autism improve in their social, communication, and behavior in the early stages.