Early Signs of Autism

Every parent basks in the joy of watching their child reach greater and greater milestones. Though sometimes delays in these milestones can be a sign of something else going on. Early childhood is also a time when autism spectrum disorder starts to show signs.

The Centers for Disease Control found that one out of every 68 children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

It has been shown that the earlier the child is diagnosed, there is an increase of improvement of their overall development. If they are given support at key developmental stages, then they will learn social skills easier than if the diagnosis arrives later in life.

There are more tools available now than what was there in the past. Rather than parents being thrown into the wind with little to no help, there are now systems in place that can be used to support both the child and the family. Having a diagnosis earlier, means there will be more support earlier and that is far better in the long run.

Children have a better grasp of new skills due to the continuous growth of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. When that part of the brain is growing, children have a stronger ability to be flexible and inventive. Once the prefrontal cortex is completely developed, when the child becomes an adult, it is harder for the person to accept changes and be willing to adapt to new skill sets later in life as opposed to early on.

Early detection plays a critical role in optimizing therapeutic results. As a parent cultivating an awareness of the early signs of autism spectrum disorder can help get your child off on the right foot, toward the best possible life they can live.

A lot of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will start to show developmental differences, in infancy. Though they can be hard to spot when they are very young. Though, most parts start to notice differences in their child’s social and language skills.

It’s also worth noting most children with autism spectrum disorder will typically sit, crawl, and even walk on time. However, less obvious differences in the development of certain things like body gestures, the ability to engage in pretend play, and social language development can sometimes go unnoticed. Especially in the early years of a child’s life.

In addition to things like speech and language delays many families also notice increasing behavioral differences. Especially in the way their child interacts with peers and others.

How To Recognize Signs Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder typically manifests over a wide range of social, communication, and behavioral differences. It is truly a “Spectrum” of differences, and each can vary in severity from one child to the next.

This means that no single child with autism spectrum disorder has exactly the same symptoms as another child with ASD. The diversity and the severity of symptoms can vary dramatically.

This is just one of the many reasons why it’s important to have a child screened in early childhood by a professional who is trained in spotting ASD. Fortunately, most public health institutions and school systems have screening protocols in place for children who are three or perhaps younger.

Late Diagnosis Issues That Can Arise

“Late diagnosis is associated with increased parental stress and delays early intervention, which is critical to positive outcomes over time” If a child is diagnosed between 12-48 months, it is shown that they will have significant gains in cognition, language and adaptive behavior.

It can be hard to get that diagnosis early enough, because many healthcare providers will tell the parents “not to worry about” things, such as reduced language development, isolation behavior. There are some clinician who will be able to notice the subtle signs of ASD and can help get that diagnosis by 2 years of age. Even though there are doctors who can recognize autistic traits, many children receive their diagnosis between the ages of 4-5 years. Therefore, there needs to be a plan that helps minimize the time between a child being suspected of this diagnosis and actually receiving a diagnosis.

How Social Differences Manifest In Children With ASD

Social skill development is one of the areas where signs of ASD start to noticeably manifest. This might be things like not maintaining eye contact or making very little eye contact. Some children with ASD will show very little or no response to a parent’s smile or other facial expressions. Other possible signs of ASD social differences can manifest as:

  • The child not looking at objects or events that a parent is looking at or pointing to
  • Not point to objects or events even to get a parent to look at them
  • Unwillingness to bring objects of personal interest to show to a parent or caregiver
  • Not displaying appropriate facial expressions
  • Difficulty perceiving what others may be feeling by looking at their facial expressions
  • A decreased ability to demonstrate concern or empathize with others
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends

Communication Differences In Children With ADS

Communication differences are also a common place where signs and symptoms of ASD start to manifest. Though they can vary in severity based on age and should be thought of in the context of age-related skill comparisons. This can include things

  • Not pointing at things to indicate needs or share things with others
  • Not saying single words by 15 months
  • Not saying 2-word phrases by 24 months
  • Repeating exactly what others say while clearly not understanding the meaning
  • Not easily responding to their name being called, yet still, respond to other sounds
  • Referring to themselves as “You”
  • Referring to others as “I” and other confused or mixed-up pronouns
  • Showing minimal interest in communicating
  • General unwillingness to start or continue a conversation
  • Rarely using toys or other objects to represent people or real life in pretend play
  • May regress in the previous language or other social milestones, between the ages of 15 and 24 months

Behavioral Differences In Children With ASD

Several behavioral differences often manifest early in children with ASD. This includes things repetitive and obsessive behaviors. This can also show up as things like:

  • Rocking, spinning, swaying, and twirling fingers
  • Walking on toes for a long time
  • Flapping hands
  • Stubbornly sticking to routines, orders, and personal rituals
  • Difficulty with change or transition from one activity to another
  • Being increasingly obsessed with a few or unusual activities, and repeatedly during the day
  • Playing with parts of toys instead of the whole toy
  • Not crying, even if they are in pain or seem to have any fear
  • Heightened sensitivity or not sensitive at all to smells, sounds, lights, textures, and touch
  • Displaying the unusual use of vision or gaze—looking at objects from unusual angles

Knowing When To Trust Your Instincts

Catching the early signs of autism spectrum disorder will go a long way toward optimizing your child’s therapeutic process and reaching important developmental milestones. As a parent, you know your child best. If you have concerns about how your child plays, learns, speaks, behaves, moves, and talks, be sure to discuss them with your pediatrician. They can refer you to the specialists that your child needs to live life to the highest potential at any age.

By creating a fluid partnership with your pediatrician, your child’s therapist will find the best way to help your child.

Age-Related Signs For A Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder

The following are some age-related examples that may help you tell the difference between normal, age-appropriate behaviors and the early signs of autism spectrum disorder.

By The Age Of 12 Months

Your child should turn their head when they hear their name. However, a child with ASD might not turn to even look after their name is repeated multiple times. Yet they will respond to other sounds.

By The Age Of 18 Months

A child with delayed speech skills will typically point, gesture, or use facial expressions to make up for their lack of talking. Though a child with ASD might not even attempt to compensate for delayed speech or might simply parrot back things they heard on the radio or TV. Without understanding the meaning.

By The Age Of 24 Months

Most children will bring a picture to show their parent and shares their joy from it with them. Whereas a child with ASD might bring their parent’s bottle of bubbles to open, yet not look at the parent’s face when they play together.

Early Intervention Is Important

There are some studies, specifically from Dawson’s theoretical model that reaches far enough that if a child is diagnosed within the appropriate age, then there might be a possibility of preventing the full breadth of ASD. With early intervention through testing, therapy, and more, a cognitive and social skills development may be helped enough that others would not be able to notice a difference between ASD children and neurodivergent children.

If a parent sees developmental differences, it might be a good idea to get a video of the different behaviors, which can help the doctors diagnose the child easier. Due to certain studies, we now know that parents can see changes during their child’s’ first year, but it can be seen easier during the second year, due to looking at their peers and home video.