Every “parent” or “about-to-be-parent” wishes nothing but what’s best for their child!
And it might devastate you to know that your child suffers from autism.
However, you should not despair and shouldn’t let this condition defeat all your hopes and future plans for your child.
In this article, we will walk you through each and everything you need to know about autism and deal with it.
What is Autism? And Is My Child Autistic?
Autism is a wide range of related disorders which exhibit mutual symptoms. It is a spectrum neurodevelopmental disorder which varies in intensity from mild to severe. You would notice its eminent characteristics as:
1. Social disability
2. Cognitive disability
3. Struggle to communicate
4. Repetitive behavior
These disorders usually appear in infancy or childhood which delays the developmental areas like learning to talk, interact and getting along with other kids.
What causes autism?
As autism is a disorder that runs in close families so the researchers proposed that a specific combination of genes may cause it which travels along the family line. It is suggested that if you or your partner (parents of the child) are of advanced age or you as a pregnant mother were exposed to certain drugs then your child will be more prone to be autistic.
How common is autism?
In 2018 it was determined that every 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. And probability of boys being autistic is four times higher than that of girls. This disorder affects children of all ethnicities and social and economic groups. You may also notice that most autistic children are diagnosed at age of 4 however this disorder can be diagnosed as early as age 2.
You might think why it is called a spectrum. It is called a spectrum disorder because ASD has a range of symptoms. Such people will have trouble talking to you or they won’t maintain an eye contact with you. No matter how much you insist or distract them, autistic children will have restricted interests. When talking to you, they might say one sentence repeatedly. They live in their own little world.
Different Types of Autism
Autism can be classified into different types
- High Functioning Autism
HFA is a term pertained to those autistic children who function cognitively higher than other people with autism. This type might be difficult for you to distinguish. If you examine these children closely you will see how they are a lot like others. They will be devoted to routine and order but would still have restrictive and repetitive habits which would seem abnormal to you.
- Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s is milder and that is how it can be distinguished from other forms. If your child has Asperger’s then he might have difficulty in social interactions and nonverbal communications. Your child might have anxiety and stress which would lead him to have unvaried interests. All these collectively would make him clumsy and would result in uncoordinated movement. They however do not have a problem with language or intellect.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder
This category of autism includes behavioral and communication problems. If your child experiences this disorder then he might have issues using and understanding language. He would struggle to relate to people, objects and events. He would play with toys unusually and you would have a suspicion over his performance. His inability to be comforted and his often emotional breakdowns should warn you.
- Rett Syndrome
This type of autism is both rare and severe and affects girls mostly. Your daughter might suffer from this condition if feels overwhelmed at odd times. If she has stunted growth and her brain isn’t properly developed then you have got to get her checked for this type of autism. Between ages 1-4 if her language and social skills decline, you should begin to get worried.
- Other similar conditions
You might confuse autism with some other similar conditions which share same symptoms as autism. You have to know that ASD shows up in early age: infancy or childhood. One of the very common behaviors tied to ASD is maintaining eye contact. But as you can see this is not a very defining and obvious symptom.
Also some people have mild symptoms that can be hardly noticed and others might have so severe symptoms that it gravely affects their lives. So don’t rush to judgments when you see minor signs of autism being displayed.
How can you identify the appearing signs of autism?
Early signs; Is My Child Autistic?
It might be challenging for you to spot the early signs of autism in your young ones if you are not an autism expert. Below mentioned are the common red flags for autism, and if your child displays any of these then it is high time for you to get them checked.
#1: Speech and language hindrances
If your child is on the spectrum then he might show some communication impairments. He might have delayed speech and language skills. His voice will be robotic, flat and unusual. You will find it absurd how he would keep on repeating same thing over and over again. He would be unable to stay on one topic and would not respond to hand gestures like waving.
#2: Difficulty in delivering body language
Your child would perform repetitive behaviors like hand flapping and twirling often. He would develop an extreme sensitivity to touch, light and sound. Your little one will be clumsy and would have trouble walking straight or standing erect. He would seldom stretch his arms to be carried or guided to be walked.
#3: Difficulty in being flexible and easy going
Your child’s aggressive behavior and short attention span will be clear indication that he is suffering from ASD. He would have fussy eating habits and would be adamant to change those. Your child would be impulsive and would be hyper and temperamental. He would prefer to be alone and would reject any emotional affiliation either with you or a random person.
Most concerning signs after every few months in toddlers that warrant a check-up
You should not read up anymore or wait another coming second if you can witness these signs in your child by the respective age
- If your child is not smiling around people and in different places by the time he 6 months.
- If your child does not pay attention to new faces or is not frightened by them when he is around 12 months old.
- If your child cannot stand when supported or does not crawl occasionally by the time he is 15 months old.
- He cannot walk by 18 months or walks only on his toes.
- By 24 months he doesn’t speak, imitate any common gestures or follow simple instructions.
- By 36 months he has limited speech, little interest in other children and falls down frequently.
How does Autism in children look like?
Many researches have been conducted to study the changes in behavioral, social and physical characters of an autistic child and how do they distinguish them from other normal children. The attributes of an autistic child vary based on the severity of the condition. But the attributes are clearly visible at certain ages and demand to be diagnosed.
Specific attributes of children that distinguish them from the unaffected children.
If your child suffers from autism, you will witness these noticeable attributes in your child.
#1: They would have speech difference
In some extreme cases you will feel that your child cannot pronounce some of the words correctly and even has trouble repeating what you just might have said. He would also repeat the same sentence again and again.
Your child will have difficulty in initiating communication with others. If he is in trouble or can’t figure something out, he would deal with his problem alone, no matter how minor it is. He would be reluctant to ask for assistance. The tone of your child voice will also be dry and he would be seldom excited.
#3: Some might have sensory dysfunction
They would be sensitive to touch. Your child won’t be able to stand in bright light for too long and would complain in extreme light intensities. Even in dark he would get afraid and would react a lot.
#4: Might move differently from other children
Due to trouble in coordination, your child might not be able to walk straight or properly. He would find it difficult to climb stairs without falling or skipping stairs not on purpose.
#5: Behaviors are also different
If your child gets hyper and angry soon and loses his temper over trivial things then he might be autistic. His variable mood is a clear indication of it.
#6: Play different from other children
An autistic child has little sense of how to deal with objects. If you feel that your child is dealing with toys in an unusual and abnormal way, you should get him checked right away.
Why is it important to recognize Autism?
The doctors suggest that it is very important to get autism detected at an early age so that an access to effective treatment can cure it well before time. It is becoming an epidemic as in US alone 1 child in every 40 children is autistic. Early intervention in autism can treat children and boost their mental and physical growth. It can help them to be more socially comfortable.
How you as a parent can spot the earliest warning signs?
- Keep a track of your child’s mental and physical growth and development
- Take an immediate action if you are doubtful or concerned
- Don’t wait and watch. Just act
- Trust your instincts
What you should do if you think your child is autistic?
There are tons of articles drafted over autism; each stage, state, symptoms at every age and significant physical, social and intellectual changes in an autistic child are clearly mention. You should seek their aid and make a sound decision. Reading thoroughly over the internet and relevant books will further clarify your doubt that is your child autistic.
#2: Talk to pediatrician
You should get support and professional consultation if you feel like your child is displaying the signs of autism. As your pediatrician has monitored your child’s health and growth over a long span and time and more meticulously, he will give you a better advice about what to do next and all the relevant medical information you will need to have a clear understanding of your child’s situation.
#3: Ask for evaluation from teacher
Autism vastly affects the social and intellectual skills of a child. It is important that if you fear that your child is school going and might be autistic you consult his teacher before anyone. Share your doubt and if the teacher has monitored a decline in his academic performance, communication and social interaction then your doubt might be true.
Diagnosis of autism
ASD can be detected when your child will be 18 months old or younger. By the age of 2 it is smart that you get it diagnosed by an experienced professional.
Questions you will probably answer to at the pediatrician’s
Pediatricians are the first step in the diagnosis. You will come across the following question when you visit your child’s pediatrician:
- Did your baby smile by 6 months?
- Did he mimic sounds and facial expressions by 9 months?
- Was he babbling and cooing by 12 months?
- Does he have trouble making eye contact?
- Does he interact with people and share experiences?
- Does he respond when someone tries to get his attention?
- Is his tone of voice “flat”?
- Does he understand other people’s actions?
- Is he sensitive to light, noise, or temperature?
- Any problems with sleep or digestion?
- Does he tend to get annoyed or angry?
If your answer was yes to majority of these questions, you should be prepared for the possibility that your child might be autistic.
How is it diagnosed in babies and in toddlers or preschoolers?
For toddlers with ASD, it is hard to connect and empathize with people. If you compare them with the kids their age you will see how they are not that active in sports, class activities and communication.
For babies with ASD you will witness how they don’t express any joyful or engaging expressions. They have little or no facial expressions. They do not respond to sounds or even their names. They act unusually around people and in public places. They do not point, wave or try to reach something.
Is it the best thing to wait for a diagnosis?
No, you should not wait for the symptoms to catch up or outgrow the condition but rather get your child checked for autism. Unlike some parents and professionals who would overlook the autistic behavior of their child as social awkwardness, you should not waste much time and get your child diagnosed if you fear something is off.
Diagnostic Test of autism
Various tests will be performed on your child to confirm if he might have autism or not.
This is a short test which is conducted to see if your child has acquired the basic learning skills he should have at the particular age. During this test the doctor might ask you some questions or talk and play with your child to examine how she speaks, learns, behaves and moves. If there is a delay in any of these, the doctor might suspect that your child is autistic.
Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation
This is the second step of the diagnosis. This part will be a thorough review of child’s behavior and development over time, you may also be interviewed so be prepared. Your child will undergo a hearing and visual screening, medical testing, genetic testing and neurological testing. The doctor might ask you to further consult child psychologists and neurologists.
How can the mother lower the possibility of the occurrence of autism?
If you are a pregnant mother, there is a lot you can do to prevent autism in your child. A research concluded that mothers who took iron in healthy amounts decreased the probability of autism. So make sure that during pregnancy, your intake of iron is high. Higher levels of vitamin D intake during pregnancy can also ensure a healthy neurological development of child.
How to treat autism?
Intensive applied behavior analysis
This is a series of techniques in which your child will have visits with a therapist, one on one. A step by step learning process where he will be rewarded for correct behavior and answer. You will have to make changes in his environment too.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapies
In CBT your child will learn about ways to connect with people and will learn how he should express his feelings and thoughts. He will also identify those thoughts that trigger his negative behavior.
There are a number of medicines which are suggested to reduce the effects of autism: antipsychotics, antidepressants, stimulants and anticonvulsants.
Social skills training
The SST is a way for your child to develop social skills. As autistic children have difficulty in interacting with one another, this training will help your child to communicate effectively with others.
Sensory integration therapy
The SIT will help your child to respond well to sensory stimulants. His senses will be amplified and he will develop a better understanding of his surroundings.
In OT your child will be taught motor skills and handwriting skills. The will learn how to take care of themselves; the basic hygiene and dressing.
This therapy will teach your children the verbal skills they need to know. They will have a better rhythm of their speech and will be more eloquent.
This all will be challenging for you to process right now as this condition is something you would not wish on your child. But no matter what, your child is your child. He will still need affection, compassion and protection from you. You have to understand his struggle with autism and make him embrace his true self. He should not hide it from the world because a mere diagnosis and treatment at the end cannot really alter who he is.
Autism is an intricate condition with no proper treatment or cure. There are therapeutic approaches to alleviate its effects and manage its symptoms. You shouldn’t lose hope but rather consult your doctor every step of the way to draft the most effective plan for your child.