Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that impairs social interactions and communication skills. It is also characterized by restrictive or repetitive behaviors. Although ASD can be diagnosed at as early of an age as 18 months old, diagnosing ASD is difficult. This is because there is no test for ASD. Instead, doctors use the child’s symptoms, developmental history, and behavior to diagnose. If you are concerned that your child may have Autism, ask yourself these questions.
1. DOES MY CHILD HAVE A STRONG ATTACHMENT TO UNUSUAL OBJECTS?
Children often have a special stuffed animal or blanket that they are attached to. It becomes a source of comfort and security for them. Children with Autism also often have comfort items, but these items can seem unusual to others. Instead of a stuffed animal or blanket, a child with Autism may become attached to a box of cereal, flashlight, or other hard inanimate objects.
These objects are a source of comfort and security, just as a blanket or stuffed animal would be. However, for children with ASD these objects also often serve as stims. Many people engage in stimming behaviors, but it is typically much more frequent and intense for those with Autism. Stimming is repetitive behavior that people with ASD often use to self-regulate when experiencing big emotions such as anxiety, excitement, stress, or anger.
2. DOES MY CHILD FAIL TO INITIATE OR RESPOND TO SOCIAL INTERACTIONS?
Most children enjoy playing with their peers and even seek out social interactions. For children with Autism though, it is difficult to relate to others. Children with ASD often prefer to play alone and may not respond to others’ attempts at socializing with them. This lack of interest in their peers is a common characteristic of Autism. Children with Autism also struggle with social cues such as body language and holding eye contact.
3. DOES MY CHILD HAVE UNUSUAL RESPONSES TO SENSORY INPUT?
Young children often love sensory activities such as playing in water, exploring goop, and digging in sand. However, children with Autism often struggle with a condition called Sensory Processing Disorder. This can show in many ways, from not being able to tolerate certain foods because of texture to being overly sensitive to loud noises.
Children with Autism can also demonstrate an extreme interest in their sensory environment. You may notice that they seem to have a need to touch everything or even smelling objects. Lights and movement can also be a source of extreme fascination for children with Autism.
4. IS MY CHILD ABLE TO BE FLEXIBLE IN ROUTINES?
It is not uncommon for young children to strive with a consistent daily routine. Most kids can adjust and be flexible with minor changes though. For children with ASD though, even a small change in routine can be very overwhelming. These changes do not always have to be schedule changes either. It can be as simple as someone moved a favorite item from its spot, a need to eat the same food each day, or taking a different route to the grocery store. These changes can be very distressing for children with ASD and may trigger stimming behaviors.
5. DOES MY CHILD FREQUENTLY ENGAGE IN REPETITIVE MOVEMENTS?
One of the most tell-tale signs that a child has Autism is the presence of repetitive behaviors. These repetitive movements include repetitive body motions and repetitive motions with objects. Repetitive body motions that you may see in a child who has ASD are spinning, hand flapping, and rocking. Repetitive motions with objects that you may see a child who has ASD doing are flipping switches, spinning wheels on toy cars, and lining up items.
Another repetitive behavior that is common with Autism is echolalia. This happens when a child repeats something another person says. It can be immediate or it can happen at a later time, like when they repeat a phrase from a favorite show. Echolalia is a normal part of child development, but when children with Autism use echolalia it is not necessarily used in the same way. Children with Autism often use echolalia as a stim and sometimes they imitate speech without understand the meaning.
The Autism spectrum is rather broad, which is one reason it can be hard for parents to know if they should be concerned or not. Sometimes you cannot even tell that a person has Autism without them telling you, and others have very noticeable issues. Either way, there are clear differences in communication, social skills, and behavior compared to those who do not have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Early intervention is essential for children with Autism, so if you are concerned that your child may have ASD be sure to discuss it with your child’s pediatrician.