Is that a burp or a smile? Is my infant looking at me? These are common questions that parents ask themselves. While they may sound silly, these questions actually mark important milestones in your baby’s development. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that, by the time your child is two months old, he or she should smile at you and clearly look at you. Your child should also turn towards sounds and exhibit other important markers of normal brain development. Parents and professionals look for these signs to tell whether there is an early indication of autism.
Why Is It Important To Diagnose Autism Early?
If, by two months of age, a child has already missed important growth milestones, parents should consult their pediatrician. While not all missed markers indicate autism, some may. With early diagnosis, age-appropriate behavioral training can begin.
One common misperception regarding autism is that its onset occurs with age. In many cases, children are not diagnosed with autism until they are slightly older, as some signs of autism may indicate other cognitive disabilities and other signs may simply be part of the child’s personality.
A strong indicator of autism in infants is the inability to interact with the primary caregivers. This trait follows autistic infants through childhood and adulthood, if not treated. Autistic infants do not smile at Mommy or coo at Daddy. They do not wave goodbye when someone leaves the house.
One can attribute some of these symptoms to shyness, but you should examine them more closely to rule out autism – especially given that one in 59 children are born with autism in the United States alone.
A promising study conducted jointly by the Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University used an EEG (electroencephalogram) to record the brain’s electrical signals in infants as young as three months of age. Participating children received EEGs at 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, 24 and 36 months old.
One group of infants had siblings with autism, putting them in a high-risk category. The control group was composed of low-risk infants. Doctors found that, through the EEGs, they were able to predict both autism and its severity with nearly 100 percent accuracy by nine months.
What Are Other Warning Signs That My Infant May Have Autism?
Along with a lack of interaction with the primary caregivers, several other behavior patterns may appear as early as six months of age. Babies are mimics. They learn about their world by mimicking the behavior of the adults around them. If your baby is not trying to talk to you when you speak to him or her, or not trying to repeat your facial expressions, speak to your pediatrician.
Another sign is often misdiagnosed as a hearing impairment. While your baby’s hearing is important, saying his or her name should elicit a positive response. The baby should look at you or turn to find you. Have the baby’s hearing checked, but do not rule out autism.
Babies showing no interest in facial expressions are at risk of autism. Interpreting facial expressions appropriately allows an infant to become more socially interactive as he or she develops. A recent finding from the Yale School of Medicine shows that infants who paid little attention to facial expressions were more likely to be diagnosed with autism.
Delayed motor development such as turning over or crawling should raise red flags. Physical ailments should be ruled out first, but these are also signs of autism in an infant. Taken individually, these signs might not seem so unusual. Together, though, they require early intervention and proper diagnosis.
Can Autism Be Diagnosed In Toddlers?
In toddlers, autism is most often recognized as regression. If your baby used to smile, play and interact with you, but now seems indifferent towards you, consult your pediatrician. Other forms of regression can include a relapse of motor skills such as no longer playing “peek-a-boo,” a relapse of speech skills such as no longer saying “Mama” or “Dada,” and a regression of social skills such as no longer waving goodbye.
By the age of 2, your child should be able to speak meaningful two-word sentences such as “more milk.” He or she should initiate contact with you, doing something to gain your attention to be picked up and held. Toddlers should be able to visually track objects such as hand gestures or toy movement. They should also enjoy interacting with other people and playing with other children.
A child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at this early stage has a better chance of mitigating autism’s effects than older children. At this age, a child’s brain still retains the elasticity to learn new behavior patterns. Children do not outgrow autism. A “wait and see” attitude at this age may make it more difficult for your child to learn appropriate coping mechanisms later.
How Do Autism Symptoms Differ Between Boys And Girls?
Differences begin with the diagnosing process. Parents of girls are often told to wait to see if the child outgrows the symptoms or they are handed several small, unrelated diagnoses because it was traditionally thought that boys were four times more likely to fall on the autism spectrum disorder than girls.
In a collaborative effort between the University of California, Harvard University and the University of Washington, girls and boys are evaluated for autism separately using brain scans, genetic testing and observation.
One of the group’s early findings shows that, using brain scans, autistic boys utilize a different portion of their brain than other boys. Autistic girls, on the other hand, scan closer to a typical boy’s brain of the same age.
A smaller study regarding social skills supports this finding, noting that autistic girls scored equally as same-age boys, but lower than same-age, non-autistic girls in empathy and friendship quality tests.
Another reason that girls are often undiagnosed is that they tend to compensate for their autistic tendencies better than boys.
Girls generally mimic the behavior of their peers in order to fit in, often going undiagnosed until adulthood. Girls care more than boys about developing social connections and so strive to overcome the “typical” antisocial behavior associated with autism.
What Should I Do If My Child Is Diagnosed On The Autism Spectrum?
A proper diagnosis is the first step towards appropriate treatment. Behavior management, speech therapy and occupational therapy all help boys and girls cope with their symptoms. Specialized schools such as Lexington Services provide a wide range of youth programs, adult programs, autism education and other therapies to help your child.
Reach out to Lexington Services and begin your child’s journey to a more fulfilling life.
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