What is it?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a group that affects the ability to communicate and socialize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source ASD is a condition that affects one in 59 American children.
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Although these neurodevelopmental (brain disorders) can sometimes be detected before one year of a person’s age, they are often not diagnosed until much later.
MostTrusted source Children with Autism are diagnosed at the age of three. In some cases, autism may be diagnosed as early a 18-month-old. A professional should evaluate any signs of autism in children under three years old.
ASD symptoms can vary from one person to another. They are known as a “spectrum” and often manifest in different ways.
They learn and think differently from others. Some people are very disabled and require significant help in their daily lives, while others can function well.
Autism is a condition that cannot be treated, but there are ways to improve your symptoms.
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A 3-year-old boy with autism symptoms
Autism symptoms can be seen in some children as early as the first months of their lives. Some children do not show symptoms until they are two years old. Mild symptoms may not be obvious and can sometimes be confused with shyness or “terrible twos”.
These signs may be present in children as young as three years old.
- Doesn’t respond to the name
- avoids eye contact
- Prefers to play alone than with others
- Doesn’t share with other people, even with guidance
- Doesn’t know how to turn
- Isn’t interested to interact or socialize with others
- Avoids or doesn’t like physical contact with others
- Isn’t interested in making friends or don’t know how
- Doesn’t make facial expressions, or makes inappropriate expressions
- They are difficult to soothe or comfort.
- Has difficulty communicating or talking about their feelings
- Has difficulty understanding the feelings of others
Communication and language skills
- Having difficulty speaking and writing (falling behind peers).
- Repeating the same words or phrases over and again
- doesn’t answer questions appropriately
- Repeat what others have said
- Doesn’t point at people or objects, or responds to pointing
- Reverses pronouns (says, “you” instead “I”)
- Rarely or never use gestures or body language (e.g. waving).
- Talks in a flat voice or sing-song style
- Does not use pretend play (make-believe).
- Does not understand jokes, sarcasm or teasing
Behaving in an irregular manner
- Performs repetitive movements (flaps hands and rocks back-and-forth, spins).
- Line toys and other objects in an orderly fashion
- Small changes to daily routines can cause frustration and anger.
- Every time, toys are played with the same way
- Has odd routines and is upset when they are not allowed to be followed (e.g., always wanting to shut doors).
- Likes specific parts of objects (often spinning or wheels)
- Obsessive interests
- Hyperactivity, or a short attention span
Autism signs that could be a sign of the disease
- Has impulsivity
- Has aggression
- Self-injury (punching, scratching)
- has persistent, severe temper tantrums
- Has an irregular response to sounds, smells and tastes.
- Observes irregular sleeping and eating habits
- Shows fearlessness or greater fear than is expected
While any of these symptoms or signs may be normal, having multiple of them, especially if you have language delay, should cause more concern.
Signs for boys vs. signs for girls
Autism symptoms are almost identical for boys and girls. Because autism is more common in boys than in girlsTrusted Source, the classic symptoms are often described in a biased manner.
Excessive interest in trains, trucks and other dinosaur trivia, for example, is often very obvious. If a girl doesn’t like trains, trucks or dinosaurs, she might exhibit less obvious behaviors such as arranging dolls or dressing them in a certain way.
Girls who are highly functioning also tend to be more able to mimic average social behavior. Girls may have more social skills than boys, which could make impairments less obvious.
There are differences between mild and severe symptoms
Autism disorders can range from mild to severe. ASD can lead to a variety of learning and problem-solving abilities in some children, while others may require assistance with daily living.
The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnosis criteria identifies three levels of autism. These levels are determined by the amount of support a person needs.
- Shows little interest in social interaction or social activities
- Has difficulty initiating social interactions
- Has difficulty maintaining a conversational back and forth
- Having difficulty with proper communication (volume and tone of speech, reading bodylanguage, social cues).
- Has difficulty adapting to changes in routines or behavior
- Has difficulty making friends
- Is able to live on my own with minimal support
- Has difficulty adapting to changes in routines or environment
- Communication skills are lacking in both verbal and nonverbal areas.
- Manifests severe and obvious behavioral challenges
- Repetitive behaviors that are detrimental to daily living
- Has a reduced or unusual ability to communicate with or interact with others
- Has narrow, specific interests
- requires daily support
- Has significant verbal or nonverbal impairment
- Has limited communication skills, but can communicate when required.
- Has very little desire to interact socially.
- Extreme difficulty in coping with sudden changes to routines or environments
- Has difficulty focusing or changing attention, or is in great distress
- Repetitive behaviors, fixed interests or obsessiveness that lead to significant impairment
- requires significant daily support
ASD cannot be diagnosed by imaging or blood tests. Instead, doctors diagnose autism children by watching their behavior and following their development.
Your doctor will ask questions about the behavior of your child during an exam to determine if they are meeting developmental milestones. Talking with toddlers and playing with them can help doctors identify signs of autism in three-year-olds.
Your doctor might recommend that your 3-year-old child see a specialist to perform a more comprehensive examination if they are showing signs of autism.
A medical examination may include tests, and screenings for vision and hearing should be included. The interview will include the parents.
ASD can be treated early. Early intervention can make a significant difference in the outcome of your child’s ASD. All states must provide an appropriate education for schoolchildren under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Many states have programs that provide early intervention for children aged three years and under. To find out what services are available in your area, consult this resource guide. You can also contact your local school district.
The Modified checklist for autism in toddlers (M-CHAT ) can be used by parents and doctors to identify children at high risk. This questionnaire can be accessed online by organizations like Autism Speaks.
If a child’s scores indicate an increased risk of autism, they should see their doctor or a specialist.
Symptoms of autism usually become apparent at three years of age. Early intervention can lead to better outcomes so it is important to have your child tested as soon as possible.
Start with your pediatrician, or book an appointment with a specialist. You might need to get a referral from your insurer.
There are several specialists who can diagnose autism in children, including:
- developmental pediatricians
- child neurologists
- Child psychologists
- Child psychiatrists
These experts can help you create a support plan to help your child. It is also possible to contact the government to find out about available resources.