Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can vary in severity of symptoms, age of onset, and the presence of various features such as language and intellectual ability. The manifestations of ASD can differ considerably across individuals. Even though there are strong and consistent commonalities, especially in social deficits, there is no single behavior that is always present in every individual with ASD and no behavior that would automatically exclude an individual from diagnosis of ASD.
How can I tell if someone I know has autism?
Individuals with ASD interact with others differently. They often appear to have difficulty understanding and expressing emotion, and may express attachment in a different manner. Individuals with ASD report that they want to have social relationships with others and build friendships.
Many individuals with ASD do not develop effective spoken language and rely upon other methods of communicating such as pointing to pictures or using a tablet computer with special language applications. Others have echolalia, the repeating of words or phrases over and over. Individuals with ASD often have difficulty understanding the nonverbal aspect of language such as social cues, body language and vocal qualities (pitch, tone and volume).
Individuals with ASD often have a great need for "sameness" which can make them upset if objects in their environment or time schedules change. Children with ASD may not "play" with toys in the same manner as their peers and may become fixated on specific objects. Persons with ASD have a different reaction to sensory stimuli seeing, hearing, feeling or tasting things with more or less intensity than others.
Children with ASD often have a different rate of development especially in the areas of communication, social and cognitive skills. In contrast, motor development may occur at a typical rate. Sometimes skills will appear in children with ASD at the expected rate or time and then disappear.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong disability that is generally diagnosed before the age of three years old. However, often children are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed until later in life. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents consider the following questions:
Does your child…
Not speak as well as his or her peers?
Have poor eye contact?
Not respond selectively to his or her name?
Act as if he or she is in his or her own world?
Seem to “tune others out?”
Not have a social smile?
Seem unable to tell you what he or she wants, preferring to lead you by the hand or get desired objects on his or her own, even at risk of danger?
Have difficulty following simple commands?
Not bring things to you simply to “show” you?
Not point to interesting objects to direct your attention to objects or events of interest?
Have unusually long and severe temper tantrums?
Have repetitive, odd, or stereotypic behaviors?
Show an unusual attachment to inanimate objects, especially hard ones (e.g., flashlight or a chain vs. teddy bear or blanket)?
Prefer to play alone?
Demonstrate an inability to play with toys in the typical way?
Not engage in pretend play (if older than 2 years)?
What to do if you think your child has autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder affects each individual differently and at varying degrees - this is why early diagnosis is so crucial. ASD is a lifelong condition, but early intervention contributes to lifelong positive outcomes.
Get a diagnosis. If you're concerned, see a doctor who's familiar with ASD. Don't assume the child will catch up. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers an online pediatrician referral service, searchable by specialty and location.
Get help. Education, intervention and speech therapy are often critical. Contact Easter Seals for services or assistance locating service providers in your area.
Know your rights. Children with autism can be eligible for early intervention and special education services that are free starting at age 3. Your health insurance may include coverage for the medical services your child needs. Easter Seals can help you navigate these systems.
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