Statistics show that about 1 in 100 kids may have autism—enough for every parent to be concerned and look for early signs of the disorder. Your vigilance may pay off. Early symptoms may appear before the second birthday, and many experts advocate early diagnosis and treatment. That’s because in some cases, if the condition is diagnosed by 18 months, rigorous treatment may help rewire the brain connections and minimize the manifestations.
Here are some early signs of autism which you may be able to detect in babies and toddlers. If you observe these, don’t panic: just raise your concerns with your pediatrician.
Language is one of the ‘checkpoints’ for risk for autism. Talk to your pediatrician if your child does not seem to babble or make any kind of non-verbal efforts to communicate by his first birthday. This includes pointing to what he wants, waving hello, or other meaningful expressions. Other symptoms include not responding to his name, or not being able to combine words by two years (such as ‘hi mama’ or ‘want cookie’).
Note, however, that language is not the only symptom for autism, nor does excellent language skills rule out the risk for autism. Many children who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (which is part of the autism spectrum) have above-average vocabulary and reading abilities (
Babies like to interact and get responses from the environment. So watch for behaviors that seem to show that your child has no interest in ‘connecting’ to others. He won’t smile if you smile at him, nor respond to a cuddle (you might as well be carrying a sack of potatoes). He may be content to play alone for hours, and won’t request to be picked up or carried. He won’t try to get your attention, even with simple noises or gesture, to indicate what he wants: a toy out of reach, or a cookie. When you try to teach him a song, or play a game, he has no interest in mimicking your movements or the expression on your face.
Look for the tendency to fixate on a toy or activity: like getting too attached to an object, or has this extraordinary obsession with lining up things in neat rows.
In some cases, a child who seems to be developing quite well in terms of language will suddenly regress: stop talking or trying to communicate, or refuse to play social games like peek-a-boo. This is serious symptom and should be raised with the pediatrician immediately.
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