How to spot early signs of autism

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For any parent, suspecting that their child may have Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is very stressful. However, the sooner the symptoms of the condition can be spotted, the more time there is for vital intervention by a child behaviour specialist.

An early autism diagnosis means early treatment, which can greatly reduce the effects of the disorder on the child and the family. While autism is typically diagnosed at the age of 18-24 months, in some cases a diagnosis is possible as early as 12 months. Most parents are aware of the most obvious signs of autism, such as speech regression and the lack of social skills. There are, however, several other signs that need to be taken seriously when ASD is suspected.

Autism in babies can be especially challenging to spot, but certain behaviours such as the rejection of cuddles and affection, or not looking at the mother while being fed, may be cause for concern. In some cases, ASD in babies may even be mistaken for good behaviour, especially when a baby is very quiet and undemanding. In toddlers, unusual responses, or a lack of response to familiar sounds and voices can be a giveaway, as is a child not responding to her or his name.

Another, subtle sign of ASD in a toddler is a lack of non-verbal communication skills, such as pointing or waving goodbye. Babies and young children tend to imitate their parents’ gestures and facial expressions, but an autistic child may not and may exhibit a lack of interest in the surrounding environment. On the other hand, a child with ASD may show a fixation on a particular object or routine or even an excessive and obsessive interest in a repetitive activity.

This is not an exhaustive list of possible symptoms, nor will every child with ASD present with them. One good rule to go by is to trust your instincts. If your child is displaying behaviour that you consider to be a red flag, do not delay in seeking professional help. If you have any doubt surrounding your child’s unusual behaviour, then seek a developmental assessment with a consultant paediatrician, who may want to refer you to a child behaviour specialist.

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