Autism is an intricate neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioral condition characterized by limited social interaction and communication, repetitive patterns of behavior or interests, and altered sensory processing. Autism could result from genetic events, metabolic disorders, infectious diseases, neuroanatomical and biochemical structural abnormalities within the brain, or other unknown conditions. Let’s take a look at some major autism signs and their diagnoses in children.
Signs of autism in children
Autism has become a modern prevailing problem, and its ratio has significantly increased during the last two decades from two to five per 10,000 children to 1:59 children (one in 37 boys while one in 151 girls). Boys tend to develop autism four times more than girls.
Autism is a developmental disability, which is why the signs may vary from person to person. Signs of autism become visible as soon as your child gets two years old. However, most autistic children have three key characteristics:
- Inability to properly interact and communicate
- Limited interests
- Restricted and repetitive behavior
Struggle with interacting and communicating
Autistic children struggle significantly while interacting and communicating with their parents, siblings, and peers. For instance, they are unable to:
- Make eye contact while speaking or trying to get someone’s attention
- Use words or gestures to communicate effectively
- Respond to their name when called upon
- Understand the language and tend to interpret things literally
- Communicate their needs and emotions to their family and friends
- Make friends and prefer being alone
Limited interests also characterize autism. For instance, autistic children:
- Like to maintain order and may get upset if it changes
- Play with the same toys at the same time every day
- Follow a strict routine and may get upset if it changes
Restricted and repetitive behavior
Most autistic children have repetitive or restricted behaviors. For instance, they might:
- Make repetitive noises or gestures like grunting and rocking back and forth
- Tend to have an obsession with their interests or their belongings
- Do things repetitively
Other signs of autism
Children with autism have heightened senses as well, besides delayed developmental milestones and other disorders. For instance, they might:
- Get easily upset by certain loud sounds or bright lights
- Only eat foods with specific texture
- Tend to like objects that vibrate
- Have delayed language, learning, and cognitive skills
- Suffer from hyperactive, impulsive, or inattentive disorder
- Have unusual mood swings or emotional reactions to certain situations
- Have severe anxiety, depression, or ability to get stressed out easily
- Suffer from epilepsy or seizure disorder
- Not have the capacity to reciprocate the same gesture, such as a smile or wave
Note: It’s essential to remember that every autistic child is unique and may have unique disorders that might not be mentioned in the list.
Autism Diagnosis in children
Diagnosing autism in children can be tough because of the absence of blood tests or any sort of other medical tests. Autism can only be diagnosed by observing the developmental history, behavior of the child, and parental concerns.
Early diagnosis and early interventions are the keys to effective treatment. ASD can be diagnosed as soon as the baby is 18 months old. By age 2, an autism screening test can help detect the disorder soon. However, not many children get screened for autism until they are much older which causes the symptoms to aggravate.
Autism looks very different in girls than boys. Since girls are quieter, good at keeping their feelings to themselves, and have better coping mechanisms to deal with social settings, therefore, diagnosing autism in girls can be very challenging compared to boys.
Developmental monitoring refers to observing your child’s growth and monitoring their progress. It is essential to know whether your child is accomplishing his developmental milestones or skills that the rest of the children reach by a certain age. These developmental milestones can include playing, speaking, behaving, and moving.
In case your child is not meeting his milestones, visit your doctor for developmental monitoring. Additionally, make sure that you let your doctor know if you have a family history of ASD, learning disorders, intellectual disability, or attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Here’s the CDC’s brief checklist of milestones to know your child’s progress.
Developmental screening is formal developmental monitoring that involves regular child visits to the pediatrician to monitor the normal growth of a child.
The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends behavioral and developmental screening for children during well-child visits. The checkups have to happen at the age of:
- 9 months
- 18 months
- 30 months
Besides these checkups, AAP recommends ASD screening at the following ages:
- 18 months
- 24 months
The screening consists of checklists and questions based on research that compares your child’s developmental milestones with others of the same age. Additional screening is recommended if you have a family history of ASD since it puts your child at greater risk of developing the neurodevelopmental disorder.
A developmental diagnosis using a screening tool isn’t enough to diagnose autism. Nonetheless, it can indicate if the child is on the right developmental track or not.
In case the screening tool detects some abnormality, a formal developmental evaluation is done by the following:
- Developmental pediatrician
- Child psychologist
- Speech-language pathologist
- An occupational therapist or any other specialist
A formal developmental evaluation can help your child get early intervention services and help prevent ASD symptoms from aggravating.
Keep in mind that screening doesn’t necessarily mean diagnosis. Sometimes children screened positive for autism do not necessarily have it. Additionally, screenings aren’t a foolproof method to detect autism.
Other screenings and tests
Your child’s developmental physician might ask for a series of other tests to make the right diagnosis. These tests could include:
- DNA testing for genetical diseases
- Behavioral evaluation
- A series of visual and audio tests to eliminate vision and hearing issues irrelevant to ASD
- Occupational therapy screening
ASD is a prevailing neurodevelopmental disorder with more prevalence in boys than girls. The heterogeneity of autism makes it very difficult to detect exclusive neurobiological and genetic traits of ASD. However, early diagnosis and early interventions can go a long way in treating or preventing the symptoms from worsening