How Do I Know if My Child Has Autism?
Autism is one of a number of conditions that fall under a broader range of developmental problems known as autism spectrum disorders, or ASD. All autism disorders in the spectrum affect a child’s ability to communicate and otherwise interact with other people.
Because the spectrum of autistic disorders is complex, and because the types and severity of symptoms can vary dramatically from one autistic child to another, it is not possible to determine the cause or causes of any one particular case of autism. However, genetic factors are one probable cause of autism spectrum disorders, and it is possible that other factors such as environmental pollution or viral infection may play a role as well.
Signs of Autism
A child with an autistic disorder will begin to display symptoms before age three, and often by eighteen months of age. Early detection is crucial to proper treatment, so as a parent, it is important for you to be aware of signs that are indicative of the kinds of developmental problems or delays that autistic children experience:
Autism and Childhood Vaccinations
Contrary to speculations that once received zealous media coverage, there is absolutely no scientifically supported link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine — or any other vaccine — and the development of autism. Not getting your child vaccinated, on the other hand, does put them at risk of developing a serious or even life-threatening illness.
- Verbal communication. Many children with ASD have not yet begun talking by age two, or will seem to lose the normal verbal skills they had been building. If they do speak, it may be in short repetitive phrases they do not necessarily seem to understand, or in a lilting or monotone voice.
- Non-verbal communication. Autistic children usually lack a normal range of facial expressions. They often engage in what are considered stereotyped behaviors — repetitive and seemingly non-functional actions such as rocking, spinning and hand-flapping. However, some experts say that, for autistic children, these actions can also sometimes be a means of expressing themselves; for example, hand-flapping when excited and hitting themselves when unhappy.
- Social interaction. Avoiding eye contact, resisting affectionate gestures such as hugs or back pats, and failing to respond to social prompts, such as someone’s speaking their name, to the point that they seem completely lost in their own world are common behaviors for a child with an ASD.
- Other behavior. Some children with an autism spectrum disorder can seem moody, or display violent or otherwise aggressive behavior. During play, they may seem fascinated by and focus on one part of a toy rather than the entire toy. They are also prone to behavior similar to that of some obsessive-compulsives: repeating a phrase to themselves or an action such as counting, or needing to arrange objects in a particular way or order before proceeding with a task.
The number of diagnosed cases of autism is growing. What is unknown, however, is whether this change is due to an increase in the actual number of children who develop the condition, or to improved autism awareness and better recognition of symptoms by parents, teachers and doctors.
Asperger syndrome is an ASD that is generally considered to be a milder form of autism. Asperger symptoms include below-average motor skills and extreme difficulty with social interactions due to an inability to recognize others’ social cues. Another common characteristic of people with Asperger’s is a single-minded and seemingly obsessive focus on a particular type of object or topic. One upside of this symptom is that it is conducive to making adults with Asperger’s experts in their chosen fields.
If you suspect your child is displaying signs of Asperger syndrome or other autistic spectrum disorder, don’t hesitate in taking them to see your family doctor or pediatrician to begin the medical process of properly assessing their symptoms.