As a parent, two of the most crucial things you can do and should do are learning the essential milestones that mark your child’s development as well as monitoring for any early signs of autism.

What Parents Should Know About the Early Signs of Autism

The age at which the autism is diagnosed, and how noticeable the early signs of autism are, often vary from child to child. Infants can sometimes show signs within a couple of months. In other cases, symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) only make themselves apparent much later, sometimes at 2 or 3 years of age.

It is also important to note that not every child with autism will display the same symptoms. Also, many kids who are not on the spectrum may show signs.

All the following listed below could be early considered early signs of autism. If your child shows any of these signs, reach out to your family physician or pediatrician to arrange an in-office evaluation. The earlier signs of autism are recognized and diagnosed, the earlier a child can receive the treatment they need.

  • By the age of 6 months: Lack of or few big smiles or warm, engaging, or joyful expressions and little to no eye contact.
  • By the age of 9 months: Lack of or little mutual sharing of smiles, sounds, or facial expressions.
  • By the age of 12 months: Lack of or little babbling or back-and-forth signals like showing, pointing, waving, or reaching. Lack of or little response to his or her name.
  • By the age of 16 months. Lack of or extremely limited vocabulary.
  • By the age of 24 months. Lack of or very few sensible 2-word phrases (excluding repeating and imitating).

Regardless of the child’s age, many of the items listed below could also be considered early signs of autism:

  • Loss of social skills, babbling, or speech that was acquired at an earlier stage
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Ongoing preference for being alone
  • Finding it hard to understand another person’s feelings
  • Language development being delayed
  • Constant repetition of phrases or words
  • A dislike of even small changes in surroundings or routine
  • Interests remain very limited
  • Repeating certain behaviors such as rocking, flapping, spinning
  • Intense and unusual responses to certain smells, sounds, textures, tastes, colors, or lights

How is Autism Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of ASD is often complicated because it cannot be confirmed with a medical test. Instead, a doctor, must examine the history of the child’s development and behavior before establishing a diagnosis.

ASD can sometimes be detected as early as 18 months of age or younger. At age 2, a physician with significant experience can typically make a reliable diagnosis. However, there are many instances in which an ASD diagnosis is confirmed when they are much older. In some cases, they may not even be diagnosed until they are teenagers or adults.

Such a significant delay in diagnosing will often mean that children may not receive the care they need until a very late stage. That is why early diagnosis is so crucial. It helps to ensure that children are provided every opportunity to reach their true potential.

Monitoring the Child’s Development

Monitoring a child’s development is an ongoing process that involves actively keeping a record of their growth. Discussions regarding the child’s abilities and skills between a healthcare expert and the child’s parents should also be encouraged during this stage. This monitoring can pinpoint any progress made and whether the child meet’s the typical milestones for their age, such as moving, behaving, speaking, learning, and playing.

Aside from parents participating in developmental monitoring, grandparents, caregivers, and educators who are in regular contact with the child, can also participate. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a program called, Learn the Signs, Act Early that publishes relevant educational material free of charge.

Parents can also use a short checklist of essential milestones from the CDC to monitor their child’s development. If they are missing important milestones, they should discuss this with the nurse or doctor. It is also a good idea to enquire about the possibility of developmental screening.

When taking your child to the doctor for a routine examination, the doctor may play with and talk with the child to assess whether they meet the developmental milestones for that age.

To find an explanation for certain signs of autism, the doctor could also inquire about the child’s family history. Do not forget to inform them about any critical conditions from which the family members might suffer. These could, e.g., include learning disorders, ASD, ADHD, or an intellectual disability.

Screening the Child’s Development

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that all children’s behavioral and developmental screening should occur during routine visits at the ages of 9, 18, and 30 months. The AAP also recommends that every child be screened specifically for ASD during routine visits between 18 and 24 months.

Screening checklists and questionnaires are typically based on scientific research that makes a comparison between the child in question and other children of a similar age. Questions related to movement, language, emotions, behaviors, and thinking skills could be asked.

Developmental screening could be done either by a nurse, or doctor, in a school or community setting. During the screening process, they might ask the parents to fill out a questionnaire.

If, at this stage, the healthcare professional feels that there is any reason for concern, a developmental screening can and should be done. It is also possible to do additional screenings in case your child has an unusually high-risk ASD, e.g., if one of his or her brothers or sisters or another close family member has ASD.

A screening should also be done if the child sometimes behaves in a manner that hints at the presence of ASD. And if the child’s doctor does not regularly put them through a developmental screening, you, as the parent, have the right to ask that it be done.

When A Developmental Evaluation Might Be Necessary

A brief screening test may not deliver a diagnosis. It can only show that the child is either on track for normal development or that the help of a professional should be called in. Should the screening indicate that there is a reason for concern, the next step will be a developmental evaluation.

This is a more formal type of evaluation that takes an in-depth look at the child’s development. It is typically performed by a highly qualified specialist like a child psychologist, developmental pediatrician, occupational therapist, or speech-language pathologist. They will typically observe the child and give them a structured test to complete. The caregivers or parents might be asked a couple of questions and could also have to fill out a questionnaire.

The outcome of the evaluation will expose the child’s strengths and weaknesses and determine whether they should be formally diagnosed with ASD.

Being diagnosed with ASD currently covers various conditions that were in the past separately diagnosed: autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and PDD-NOS or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. The specialist will help parents to understand the diagnosis and explain what needs to be done next. For example, if early intervention services or genetic testing and counseling will be necessary.

Seeking Professional Guidance

We hope this article has provided parents with a better understanding of ASD: how it is diagnosed, and what the implications of such a diagnosis will be. If you have any reason to be concerned about your child possibly showing signs of ASD, please feel free to contact a TopLine MD Alliance affiliated physician by clicking on ‘Find a Provider.’ With a network of caring and experiencing pediatricians, you can rest assured that your child will be in good hands.

The TopLine MD Alliance is an association of independent physicians and medical practice groups who are committed to providing a higher standard of healthcare services. The members of the TopLine MD Alliance have no legal or financial relationship with one another. The TopLine MD Alliance brand has no formal corporate, financial or legal ties to any of the affiliated physicians or practice groups.