I have shared this information below in various forms on EB, but I am targeting this particularly board in an effort to raise general awareness of the early warning signs/potential red flags for autism. As some of you know, my now 7-year-old daughter has an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) that was detected when she was relatively young. As a result, she was able to take advantage of some really great early intervention.
When I first started worrying that something was slightly "off" about my daughter's development, autism never even entered into my mind. I mistakenly believed that because she made eye contact, enjoyed playing with me, and smiled -- not to mention that she was a girl! -- there was no way that we had to be worried about autism.
What I didn't realize at the time is that ASD comes in so many different shades. It's called a spectrum because the blend of symptoms, and the degree to which they affect a person, can vary dramatically. What people with ASD share are (varying degrees of): (1) differences/difficulties in social interaction (2) differences/difficulties with communication, (3) restricted/repetitive interests and behaviors. Very often, they show some sensory sensitivities as well.
Looking back, we actually had plenty of early warning signs with our daughter when she was a baby and toddler. At the same time I had these niggling concerns, I was surrounded by friends, family & even some medical professionals assuring me that she was just "quirky," "gifted," and "developing at her own speed."
Nobody encouraged me to explore my concerns further, and to be honest, I didn't WANT to learn that something was wrong, so I stayed away from any resources that might have pointed me in the right direction. Thankfully, I had two very ballsy and informed friends who batted me over the head and encouraged me to seek the guidance of a specialist.
For any of you who have niggling concerns about your own child, but need a gentle nudge to act upon them, I hope that this message will encourage you to take action. If you click on the link in my signature, you will see why I am so passionate about this cause.
RED FLAGS FOR ASD
Young children (baby/toddler stage)
* doesn't consistently respond to her name
* doesn't smile at caregivers
* doesn't use gestures independently -- for example, she doesn't wave bye-bye without being told to, or without copying someone else who is waving
* doesn't show interest in other children
* doesn't enjoy or engage in games such as peek-a-boo or patty cake.
* doesn't use gestures to get needs met -- for example, she doesn't raise her arms when she wants to be picked up or reach out to something that she wants
* doesn't use eye contact to get someone's attention or communicate -- for example, she doesn't look at a parent and then look at a snack to indicate she wants the snack
* doesn't point to show people things, to share an experience or to request or indicate that she wants something -- for example, when she's being read to, she doesn't point to pictures in books and look back to show the reader
* doesn't engage in pretend play -- for example, she doesn't feed her baby doll
* doesn't sound like she's having a conversation with you when she babbles
* doesn't understand simple one-step instructions - for example, "Give the block to me" or "Show me the dog."
* has an intense interest in certain objects and becomes ‘stuck’ on particular toys or objects
* focuses narrowly on objects and activities such as turning the wheels of a toy car or lining up objects
* is easily upset by change and must follow routines – for example, sleeping, feeding or leaving the house must be done in the same way every time
* repeats body movements or has unusual body movements such as back-arching, hand-flapping and walking on toes.
* is extremely sensitive to sensory experiences -- for example, she is easily upset by certain sounds, or will only eat foods with a certain texture
*seeks sensory stimulation -- for example, she likes deep pressure, seeks vibrating objects like the washing machine, or flutters fingers to the side of her eyes to watch the light flicker.
To learn more about very early warning signs and the importance of early intervention, check out this terrific site:
Signs of possible ASD in Preschoolers
With some children, the red flags might not become entirely obvious until they reach preschool (or even school age), when suddenly the developmental gap between them and their peers becomes more pronounced. Some of the more common characteristics of ASD in pre-schoolers include (note: list is simply representative, not exhaustive. Also, a child with ASD may not display all of the signs on this list. Mine sure didn't!):
*Unusual responses to other people. A child may show no desire to be cuddled, have a strong preference for familiar people and may appear to treat people as objects rather than a source of comfort.
* The child tends not to look directly at other people in a social way. This is sometimes referred to as a lack of eye contact (may also look at people and things from the corner of their eyes)
* There may be constant crying or there may be an unusual absence of crying.
* The child often has marked repetitive movements, such as hand-shaking or flapping, prolonged rocking or spinning of objects.
* Many children develop an obsessive interest in certain toys or objects while ignoring other things. A common obsession might include a fixation on numbers, letters & symbols (e.g. memorizing letter plates).
* The child may have extreme resistance to change in routines and/or their environment (e.g. must take the same driving route every day; must use exact same dish every day)
* The child may appear to avoid social situations with peers, preferring to be alone.
* There is limited development of play activities, particularly imaginative play.
* The child may have sleeping problems.
* Food problems. The child can be resistant to solid foods or may not accept a variety of foods in their diet.
* There may be an absence of speech, or unusual speech patterns such as repeating words and phrases (echolalia), failure to use 'I', 'me', and 'you', or reversal of these pronouns. A child might have early words but only speak about a very, very narrow range of topics (i.e. "little professor").
* There are often difficulties with toilet training.
* The child generally does not point to or share observations or experiences with others.
*The child may be extremely distressed by certain noises and/or busy public places such as shopping centers.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE CONCERNS
If you have concerns that your child might have ASD, the next step should be getting professional guidance. You can also ask your MCHN or GP to do a relatively simple "developmental screen" to see if there are any potential issues. If your child attends day care or preschool/kinder, it can be valuable to ask carers/teachers what they have observed about your child as well.
Note: While talking to your GP can be a good place to start, please be aware that not all general practitioners are up-to-speed on ASD (some are, some aren't). All the more reason for you to arm yourself with good information!
In younger children, the diagnosis process almost always involves a specialist medical doctor (paed, developmental paed, or psychiatrist) or a panel approach that includes one. Your GP can refer you to one of these professionals.
For more specific information for how to get an ASD assessment in your state or territory, check out:
There are also some terrific on line resources to help guide parents. Two particularly valuable ones in Australia are:
(includes state-by-state directory of professionals who are well versed in ASD)
Additionally, the mums who are active on the Special Needs/Disabilities board are very supportive and happy to share recommendations of great "ASD-savvy" professionals (via PM, because we aren't allowed to make explicit recommendations on the board), provide information, or answer questions. Your child doesn't have to have a diagnosis of anything for you to voice your concerns or ask questions.
(I am in Sydney and am always happy to pass along my suggestions of ASD professionals in this area).
Thank you for taking the time to read this message!
Edited by baddmammajamma, 25 August 2013 - 10:17 AM.