This article talks about what to look for to determine if your child is showing symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs). Also discussed are the next steps after determining that you are concerned your child may be exhibiting symptoms of ASD.
The reason autism is considered to be on a spectrum is because autism affects people in different ways, ranging from a mild impact on daily functioning to a severe impact.
Research shows that children with autism spectrum disorder achieve the most independence and success when they receive intervention as early as possible, so if you suspect an autism spectrum disorder, talk to a professional right away. Don’t wait, thinking that your child will grow out of his/her symptoms.
In general, symptoms of autism spectrum disorder appear before three years of age. However, it is very common for parents to notice or become concerned about symptoms for the first time after age three. If you are concerned that your child is exhibiting any of the symptoms below to a significant degree (regardless of age), it is imperative to talk to the appropriate professionals to determine if you child needs and is eligible for any specialized services. It is never to late to start getting help for your child.
Symptoms of Autism
- Difficulty participating in a back and forth conversation
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Difficulty understanding what others mean in conversation
- Difficulty using language to communicate wants, needs, and/or share information
- Difficulty with non-verbal communication. For example: not reading others’ body language; not using common gestures such as nodding, shrugging shoulders, hand gestures when speaking; not showing many facial expressions when communicating or when emotional reactions are expected
- Does not initiate conversations or play with others, prefers to play alone
- Very limited interests (e.g., only liking to play with the same few toys all the time or talk about or study the same few topics all the time)
- Does not play with toys as expected (e.g. may line toys up, spin or inspect the parts of toys, or not show interest in toys at all)
- Has difficulty in a new environment, around new people, or when things do not go as planned
- Has trouble shifting from one activity to another
- Insists on doing things the same way or in the same order each time
- Appears overly sensitive to noises, textures, sounds, smells, or touch
- Makes repetitive body movements such as rocking back and forth, spinning, flapping hands, flicking fingers
Here are some signs to look for children two and under that may also indicate your child may benefit from an evaluation to determine possible autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delays
- You child does not use gestures such as pointing or waving by 12 months
- Your child has not babbled or cooed by 12 months
- You child does not respond to his/her name by 12 months
- You child has not said any words by 16 months
- Your child had language skills and seems to have lost them
- Your child does not say two-word phrases to express wants or needs (e.g., more juice, give me) or share information (e.g., look, doggie) by 24 months
- You child does not make eye contact or only has brief moments of eye contact
- Your child does not respond to or make facial expressions
Your child may have one or all of the signs or symptoms mentioned above and each symptom can vary in frequency and intensity. If you notice any of these symptoms to a degree that causes you to be concerned, bring it to the attention of a professional to determine your next steps. Also, keep in mind that some children who are not on the autism spectrum can have some of these symptoms, so do not jump to the conclusion that your child has autism without a proper evaluation. Additionally, some of the signs and symptoms above can be present in children with hearing or vision impairments. Have your doctor determine if hearing or vision problems can be causing some of the behaviors or communication difficulties you see in your child.
If you are concerned that your child is exhibiting the symptoms discussed in this article, make sure to tell your family doctor. He should give you a referral to the appropriate professionals to give your child a formal evaluation. You can also contact a private child psychologist or psychiatrist and ask for an evaluation. Another option is to have your child evaluated through an outpatient mental health clinic. Outpatient clinics generally have psychologists or psychiatrists who conduct autism evaluations. Do a Google Search for mental health clinics in your area. Contact the clinics listed in your search to discuss scheduling an evaluation (keep in mind that some clinics have long waiting lists so you may want to contact as many as possible to find the first available appointment). You can also look up reviews, find the clinics you want to go with and then call around for the first available appointment. Your child’s school or early intervention team (see more on early intervention below) may also have recommendations for clinics in your area to get an autism evaluation. If you are using your child’s health insurance, you can call the insurance company to find out which private psychologists, psychiatrists, and clinics are covered.
You can also ask your child’s school for an autism evaluation. For children not yet in kindergarten, you can receive a free evaluation through your state’s early intervention program. Do a Google Search for early intervention in your area and contact them for an evaluation.
Early intervention evaluations do not always provide a specific diagnosis such as autism, but they can tell you if your child has any developmental delays and if he/she is eligible for early intervention services such as speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or specially designed instruction (academic readiness skills such as letters, colors, numbers, shapes, etc. taught by a special education teacher).
For children in grades k through 12, evaluations conducted by the school can lead to an educational classification of autism and entitle your child to special education services. Keep in mind that special education looks very different from what it looked like in the past. Children can receive special education services in the general education classroom or in a smaller class setting, depending on the needs of the child.
If your child is doing fine academically and not demonstrating behavior problems at school, it is unlikely that a school evaluation is the best route to go. The main purpose of a school evaluation is to determine if your child needs special education. Even if your child has an autism spectrum disorder, special education may not be necessary if he/she succeeding in a general education classroom without support. If you believe this is the case, but still would like to get help for your child outside of school, a private evaluation through a psychologist or psychiatrist, or clinic would be a better option. If you are concerned about your child’s social skills in school but not concerned about his academic progress or behavior, talk to you child’s school team (guidance counselor, principal, teacher, etc.) to determine what programs the school might have to help your child with social skills. Some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need specific instruction on how to relate socially to others.
Receiving the classification of developmental delay or autism through an early intervention or school based evaluation is not the same as receiving a medical diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Early intervention and school based evaluations do not help with receiving non school related services such as wrap around support (e.g., receiving professional behavior support for your child from a community agency), exploring medication as an option, or seeking out private therapies or groups not provided by the district or state (e.g. speech/language, OT, physical therapy, social skills groups). If your child receives a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, talk to the professional who gave the diagnosis, about what services your child can benefit from and exactly where to find those services. You can also do a Google Search for autism services and resources in your area. Contact the agencies on the list to find out what services or resources they have to help you or your child.
If you would like to learn more about caring for or working with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, read Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, shown below.
This informative book helps you to understand autism, and teaches you how to work with children on the autism spectrum in a positive and practical way.
Here are some reviews from parents that bought Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew:
- This book has given me an understanding of my son! I’ve made it to chapter 4 so far and have highlighted numerous sections of this book. It’s a must read for any one how loves someone with autism. I will be buying multiple copies for family. Thank you isn’t enough.
- This book is great for ANYONE who cares for simply wants to understand children with autism. It really breaks everything down nicely in a way that everyone can understand. It really helped me. My 5 yo has autism. Thanks!
- This is absolutely the best book to read about children with autism. The author shares her experiences and is very in-tune with her child. I bought several copies to hand out to family to help them understand a beautiful child with autism in our family. Very good and easy read.
Another highly rated product for parents with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder is the e-book A Parent’s Guide To Living With Autism Spectrum Disorder, written by Kerri Stocks, the mother of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
This guide can be downloaded to your computer for immediate reading. Here are just a few of the things you will find in this guide:
- How to really get to know your child
- Ways to overcome your own stress and tension related to Autism Spectrum Disorder
- How to set your child up for success in the classroom
- Four essential things to know when communicating with a child on the autism spectrum
Here are some reviews from parents and professionals that purchased A Parent’s Guide To Living With Autism Spectrum Disorder:
- Kerri has helped so much with the understanding of ASD and behaviors children present. We were lost as to what to do about our son. Family and friends just saw him as a naughty child but we knew there was more. Kerri was able to answer our questions and we had many of those. With Kerri’s help and guidance and a lot of trial and error we are starting to see a fantastic change. Thank you Kerri, you were meant to be a healer of children.
- I really need to say that I have very much enjoyed your newsletters and the book which I have read. You have a unique ability to get inside the minds of these special people and be their voice. This is a great help for the average parent who struggles to understand what is happening inside their heads. Understanding this leads to greater patience and tolerance. Outlining your personal experiences with the school system also helps parents to realize they are not alone in this confusing world nor are their children as terrible as they can appear. With patience and work there is hope. Thank you for being a pioneer in this area. I would recommend your books and newsletters to anyone looking for help in this area.
- As a social worker and therapist who has worked with children for over 17 years, I was thrilled to see a resource that will help children navigate the complexity of communication and social interaction. Children with Spectrum Disorders often struggle in finding a way to be understood and to understand how to fit into the world around them.
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