Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD, are typically characterized by difficulties with social interactions, complications with communications, and a tendency towards repetitive behaviors. Symptoms may vary drastically in type and severity. While ASD is often a lifelong condition, early identification and therapy may reduce the severity of symptoms, as well as increase communication skills and abilities. Because of the profound impact these therapies may have, it is extremely beneficial to identify ASD as early as possible.
While averages exist in childhood development, all children develop at their own pace. This may make it difficult for a parent to know what may indicate an actual problem in development. It is important to remember that only a medical professional is capable of diagnosing ASD. If you have any doubts about your child’s development, your pediatrician can help you determine a course of action.
Infants tend to be naturally social, finding intrigue in faces, being fascinated by voices, and even reaching out or grabbing for nearby people. Children with ASD, however, tend to show hesitation to interact. By eight or ten months, many children with ASD may show signs of disinterest with social interactions, such as not responding to the sound of their names, lack of interest in others, or delayed speech. By the time these children reach toddlerhood, they may show signs of difficulties with social games, failure to imitate the actions of other people, and a preference to play alone instead of with others. These toddlers may seem hesitant to seek physical comfort or may not respond normally to their parents’ displays of affection or anger.
It is common for ASD patients to have difficulties controlling emotions. This may present as the child “not acting their age” by having outbursts, such as crying in inappropriate situations or violent behavior when frustrated, sometimes including episodes of self-harming.
Young children with ASD tend to be stunted in their language development. Some children begin cooing and babbling in a normal timeline, then suddenly lose these communicative behaviors. With speech therapy, however, most ASD patients do learn to communicate through spoken language. Conversely, some ASD patients develop exceptional language skills, bypassing “kid speak” and quickly developing an astounding vocabulary. These patients, however, still struggle with communication, exhibiting a tendency to ramble or a failure to understand the social cues of those around them. It is common for ASD patients to be able to pick up on cues such as body language or intonation. These patients may struggle not only with noticing signals from others, but also with presenting their own correct cues, such as appropriate body language. Therapies may also aid ASD patients in overcoming these difficulties.
Repetitive behaviors or limited range of activity are also common. An ASD child may flap their hands or rock with no apparent motivation, compulsively arrange and rearrange things, or make repetitive noises. These behaviors are often noticeable in a child’s play. Instead of using toys to engage in imaginative play, an ASD child may be more focused on organizing their toys. These repetitive behaviors may morph into intense preoccupations or obsessions.
If you have any concerns about your child’s development, contact your pediatrician to determine the best course of action.