Signs and Symptoms of Autism

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Let’s just start by getting this out in the open….
Toddlers can be super weird! Plain and simple they have some funky behaviors!! They go through mood swings, teething, sleepless nights, growth spurts, unexplained phases and many more things that can cause these odd behaviors to appear. Not to mention, this is their first time learning everything!!! And sometimes they have some awfully funny ways of discovering. Most toddler behaviors, as questionable as they may appear, are completely typical and normal. However, there are some behaviors that we have to watch out for as signs of Autism or other developmental delays. If your child is struggling to fit in and these differences between your child and other children are interfering with their everyday life it is time to get him/her checked out! If you feel that something just isn’t right, always ask your pediatrician! I always say, it is better to ask too many questions than to not ask enough and miss something.

Parents are blessed with a special intuition for their children, don’t be afraid to use that!

Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for. (Keep in mind this is not every sign and symptom…but these are some of the most common.)

Disconnection to others: Children with autism can sometimes seem very distant. There can also be a disconnect to loved ones including parents or siblings.There can be a major disconnect with facial cues. They may not react any differently to a scowl than they would to a laugh or smile.Children with autism are not disconnected emotionally themselves, they just don’t have the ability to understand or pick up on social cues as efficiently or quickly as other children.

Apparent lack of empathy:
Children with autism sometimes don’t notice when or understand why another child is crying, has been hurt or when they hurt someones feelings. Children with Autism seem to have difficulty with understanding or appreciating situations from another person’s perspective. This is probably because they don’t understand that everyone doesn’t quite always think the way they do. Children with Autism can seem to have a small range of emotions. Again, this isn’t because they lack that capacity to have those emotions….They simply have a developmental delay in that area and it is a sign that could possibly mean your child sits somewhere on the Autism Spectrum.

Indifferent to human interaction:
Most children thrive off of human attention, like I’ve talked about in other posts, they can be complete attention seekers!. Babies with Autism don’t always engage by staring at the faces of others, responding by hearing their name, mimicking facial expressions, grasping fingers or hands during play, and prefer to play alone. Children with autism a lot of times don’t seem interested in developmental games  that a typically developing baby would enjoy.  This symptom normally begins to show when babies are about 12-18 months old. It will most likely continue to become more pronounced as the child gets older. By the preschool age the child will often want to play with toys rather than people and might seem perfectly happy playing by themselves. They might also completely ignore other children.
Emotional Outbursts:
Sometimes these “outbursts” can seem pretty unexplained. It can also seem like an extreme overreaction when a typically developing child would not react to s certain situation that way.  Outburst can also occur when a routine is slightly thrown off or even in a very routine situation. A child with autism may be unable to control their emotions when they are in physical discomfort, emotional discomfort, feel afraid or when they find themselves in a new, strange, or stressful situation.Delayed language Development: By the age of 1, children should be able to say a few simple, single words. By 18 months, children should have at least 6 solid words in their own vocabularies. By age 2, children should be able to string simple two-word phrases together. By age 3, children should have the ability to form complete (simple) sentences. Children with autism can have language development that develops much later! If you notice that your child keeps missing these language milestones it might be a good idea to bring it up to your pediatrician.

Prone to non-verbal communication:
Like we talked about above, kids with Autism a lot of times have delayed language development. They may begin using visual or physical means of communication. (Drawing, gestures, and sometimes physical aggression). Another red flag of autism is a loss or regression in language and verbal skills. They may not build on new communication skills or revert back to earlier forms of communication. They may also start losing words or regressing or losing milestones that they hit at earlier ages.
Difficulty understanding figurative expressions: Children with Autism have a hard time understanding sarcasm or people who express themselves figuratively. Like we talked about earlier kids with autism many times don’t get simple meaning from demeanor or facial expressions.  They also have a hard time understanding tone of voice. Kids with Autism also seem to have more trouble distinguishing between whats real and what is make-believe. That line between what is real and what is make believe may be blurred or non-existent.

Repetitive Behaviors: Kids with autism are very prone to repetitive behaviors. They may arrange and rearrange toys or objects over and over. They may also rock back and forth, flap their hands, or repeat the same words and phrases over and over. This is obviously one of the easiest identified behaviors when diagnosing autism. Children with Autism also have more motor delays than your typically developing child. They may have more trouble holding crayons, or other materials to create recognizable pictures, art or writing.

Pica: Children (even adults!) with autism are very prone to pica. What is pica? It is the tendency to eat objects that are not food. ( During outside time they may eat dirt, clay, rocks etc…) If this is the case they need to be watched closely! They will often chew and/or swallow things that are NOT edible.  They may also put other things in their mouths such as fingers, or objects that are not safe. (Scissors, pencils, glass etc…)

Sensitivity to external stimuli: This can be one of the earlier signs of autism. Kids with autism can become very upset or agitated when they are exposed to specific  noises, bight lights, or particular smells, tastes, or textures. They might refuse to wear certain colors, they may avoid certain colors, tastes, areas in the home for no apparent reason etc…If they are exposed to these they could lash out, have emotional outbursts or temper tantrums. But… can also look pretty opposite sometimes… The child might insist on wearing certain clothing items at all times, colors or textures, they may prefer to be in rooms with bright lights, bright colors, loud sounds and they may enjoy playing with or touching specific body parts. When they are not given their preference in “stimuli” you might see those emotional outbursts we talked about or emotional stress.
These are symptoms you may see in early infancy or childhood:
In Babies:
  • Slow to smile or laugh: Babies with Autism tend to not smile or react joyfully themselves. They also have a lower ability or capacity to form the typical back-and-forth sharing of sounds or facial expressions.  (These symptoms will typically appear by about 3 months old)
  • Resists cuddling or holding:
  • Doesn’t point at objects
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Fails to respond to their name by 12 months
In Toddlers:
(plus the above symptoms)
  • Doesn’t engage in pretend play by 18 months (caring for a doll, using objects as phones etc..)
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Doesn’t understand feelings in other people
  • Doesn’t speak or speaks with an abnormal rhythm or tone
  • Gives unrelated answers to questions
  • Seems to ignore you when you make a request 
  • Repeats specific routines or rituals
  • Throws temper tantrums because of minor changes in routine
  • Intentionally and repeatedly causes harm to him/herself (head banging, pinching, picking at scabs or skin, aggression such as hitting, or biting themselves). 
  • Becomes obsessively interested in something
  • Moves Spastically -flaps hands, rocks, or spins his body continuously: Kids with autism, like mentioned before can enjoy odd stimuli. Flapping hands, or waving hands in front of their eyes etc… is an enjoyable feeling for them.  
  • Reacts to sounds, smells or touch in an unusual way.
  • Has unusual food preferences
  • Concentrates on games, toys or other objects for extended periods of time

Reading this you might notice that I used the words may, might, can, maybe, etc…. a lot. This is because Autism has so many signs and symptoms and differences in severity. Not every single child with Autism will show these symptoms. They may have some, none, or many of the signs and symptoms talked about. And, as with EVERY child, each child with Autism is first and foremost an INDIVIDUAL!

Again- if you are worried about your child, talk to your pediatrician! They will ask you all the necessary questions and get you set up with the right information to have your child tested further!

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