Does my child have Autism? Signs of Autism in Children

Does my child have Autism is a common question many parents ask. According to the National Autism Association, Autism can range from very mild to very severe and occurs in all ethnic, socioeconomic and age groups. Men are four times more likely to have Autism than females. Some children with Autism appear normal before age 1 or 2 and then suddenly regress, losing language or social skills they had previously gained.

Studies have shown that one third to half of the parents of children with an Autism noticed a problem before their child’s first birthday, and nearly 80%–90% saw problems by 24 months of age.

Early signs of Autism may present in the following ways:

  • Avoid eye contact
  • Do not respond to their name
  • Do not demonstrate interest in things
  • Prefer to be alone
  • Have difficulty showing understanding
  • Lack of empathy
  • No speech or delayed speech
  • May repeat words or phrases
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset at minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Rock their body, flap their hands or spin in circles
  • Have limited social skills
  • Avoid physical contact
  • Reverse pronouns (says “you” instead of “I”)
  • Show little danger or have no safety awareness
  • Inability to understand humor or sarcasm

Characteristics of Autism

Autism is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders. The common core characteristics of Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) include:

  • Difficulty with vocal communication
  • Repetitive patterns of behavior
  • Impairment with social behaviors
  • Cognitive impairments

How is Autism diagnosed?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children receive Autism-specific screening at 18 and 24 months of age. A broad developmental screening can also be administered at 9, 18 and 24 months. A free developmental assessment can be requested through ther State Department of Health. Developmental screening is a short test to tell if children are learning basic skills as they should, or if they have delays. The doctor might ask the parent some questions or talk and play with the child during an exam to see how he/she speaks, learns, behaves, and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a problem. Children at high risk due to preterm birth, low birth weight, and having a sibling with Autism may require additional screening.

A Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation is the second step. This review includes looking into the child’s behavior and development as well as interviewing the parents. It may include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, and neurological testing. The child may be referred to a specialist for further assessment and diagnosis. These specialists include Developmental Pediatricians, Child Neurologists, Child Psychologist or Psychiatrists.

Understanding Autism

The term “Autism” comes from the Greek word “autos,” meaning “self.” As early as 1887, a Dr. John Langdon Down (the first person to describe Down’s syndrome), researched mental retardation. He described individuals who would be classified as having Autism today as having “developmental retardation”. In 1911, Eugen Bleuler used the word autism to describe a symptom of schizophrenia. Then in 1927, Eugene Minkowski further define autism as the “trouble generator” of schizophrenia.

In the early 1940s, the idea of “Autism” changed. Leo Kanner of the U.S. and Hans Asperger of Germany conducted research which described individuals with social and emotional limitations that also showed withdrawn behavior. Kanner named this condition Kanner’s syndrome and then later Early Infantile Autism, while Asperger named the condition Asperger’s syndrome. The symptoms were similar but not identical. Asperger sufferers experienced difficulty with social interactions but had stronger language ability and an above average understanding of highly technical knowledge.

Leo Kanner continued studying and in 1949, he observed a small sampling of children from well-educated families. He concluded that the mothering style in these families was “cold” and coined the term “refrigerator mother.” In 1950, Bruno Bettleheim claimed that Autism was an emotional disorder some children developed because of psychological harm brought upon them by their mothers. His theory became very popular and was featured in books and even prime time television. In 1964, Bernard Rimland, who had a son with Autism, presented the first solid argument. He felt that Autism was not related to the parent-child bond, but is a biological condition.

In 1971, Eric Schopler and Robert Reichler did more studies regarding the effects of parenting in the treatment of children with Autism. A Susan Folstein and Michael Rutter conducted studies using same-sexed twins where at least one showed infantile Autism. They concluded that Autism could occur due to brain injury on its own or in combination with a genetic element.

In 1980, Autism was added to the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Orders as “infantile autism.” Doctors could then accurately diagnose Autism and differentiate autism from schizophrenia. By 1987, the name “Autistic Disorder” replaced “Infantile Autism” and expanded on the explanation. In 1991, Schools began to identify and serve students with Autism after the federal government decided to make Autism a special education category.

Many movies have been created regarding Autism. They have made many more people aware of this disorder and the symptoms associated with it..

People with Autism may have limited interest in activities or play. Young children often have an unusual focus on pieces of toys. They focus on parts of toys, such as the wheels on a car, rather than playing with the whole toy. They also have a preoccupation with certain objects including trading cards, and video games.

Children with Autism often have a need for routines and sameness. A child with Autism may always need to eat food in a certain order or take the same route to school every day or they become upset.

Other unusual behaviors seen in those with Autism:

  • Lining up objects
  • Being obsessively organized
  • Having to follow rigid routines
  • Eating nonfood items
  • Exhibiting odd sleeping habits

There is nothing about how children with Autism look that sets them apart from other people. The condition lasts throughout their life though some symptoms may improve. It is important to know that some people without Autism may have some of the same symptoms also, but for people with true Autism, the impairments make their life very challenging.

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