Autism is on the rise, it has been suggested recently, that as many as 1 child out of 150 may be classified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some cases are so mild, parents barely notice and label the child as a little different or even odd. Others have debilitating symptoms that severely affect all aspects of functioning. Most likely, children with severe symptoms will be diagnosed early and treated from a young age, but it is those children who are higher functioning and falling through the cracks are the ones often left behind. Recognizing symptoms early and developing a treatment plan will almost certainly make life easier for the future. Autism presents itself differently in different people. Even typical children sometimes present certain behaviors that are common among children with Autism. What we need to remember is, that it is not the one symptom we have to worry about, but rather a collection of symptoms present. Here are some common symptoms of Autism. If you see more than 2 or 3 in your child, an evaluation from a qualified practitioner is best to rule out the disorder. School districts are not qualified to give such a diagnosis and often downplay the importance of intervention due to their monetary restrictions, therefore it is important to seek advice elsewhere first.
- Eye contact is probably the most common deficit among children with Autism or Asperser Syndrome. Does the child constantly avoid eye contact? Parents may not be the first to notice this deficit, as the child’s eye contact is probably best with the parents. If friends or other family members mention about your child’s eye contact being poor, it is definitely worth paying attention to. Shy children still stare adults in the eyes, while hiding behind parents or other objects. Having poor eye contact is not a symptom of being shy.
- Language delay can be very subtle or extreme. It is in the subtle cases, that we need to pay close attention. Children with severe language delays are often diagnosed early. If you suspect any language delay, a qualified speech therapist can do an evaluation and find out how significant the delay is. Language delay alone is not necessarily a sign of Autism, but if it is present with a couple more other symptoms, you should consider consulting a specialist in Autism. It is important to consult specialists outside of the school district. While using the school’ s resources to evaluate children is a cheap alternative for parents, we must remember, they are not allowed or qualified to make a diagnosis.
- Echolalia is simply repeating words or phrases over and over again and usually out of context. It could be something the child has just heard, or something he has heard weeks or even months ago. While some echolalia is normal in typical children, persistent echolalia is not. Talking to oneself repeating phrases or words should be a red flag and brought to the attention of a professional, especially if other symptoms are also present.
- Sensitivity to touch is also common among children with Autism. Some are too sensitive and avoid being touched or hugged. Others enjoy being hugged very hard, but cannot stand a slight touch. Sensitivity to textures such as clothes or foods they eat may be present also. Is the child a picky eater or is he/she over-sensitive to certain textures?
- Repetitive behaviors such as toe-walking and hand flapping are often present in children with Autism. If it is a behavior you often notice in your child, when present with at least a couple of other symptoms also, consult a professional. Hand flapping often happens when a child is excited or upset. If such an emotion is expressed by hand-flapping, it may be a sign of Autism when present with other symptoms.
- For highly verbal children, the inability to make friends and play together may be a strong indication of a social deficit. Is the child playing with or just playing along other children? When talking to other children, does the child persevere with a certain topic despite obvious cues from peers that they don’t want to talk about it any longer? Does he/she understand jokes? Children with Asperser Syndrome are highly intellectual, but have significant social deficits and find it hard to make and maintain friends.
- Difficulty to deviate from routines is common among children on the Autism Spectrum. If the child throws a tantrum because of a change in routine, it may be a sign of Autism when combined with some other symptoms.
- There is not one symptom alone, that can point to Autism in a child. It is a collection of symptoms and their severity which will ultimately justify a diagnosis. All symptoms listed above are present in many typical children also. If you ever have any doubt, talk to a professional. The sooner you act, the better the outcome or the sooner you can put your mind at rest.