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How Do I Know If My Child Has Autism?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 44 children in the United States is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) every year. You may have asked yourself, “How do I know if my child has autism?” As a caregiver, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the early signs of autism. It may be helpful to understand typical developmental milestones. Below we will explore symptoms and developmental milestones to keep in mind as you observe your child’s evolving behaviors.

What Does Autism Look Like?

Autism often appears as difficulty with language, social, and behavioral skills. It also can consist of restricted or repetitive behaviors. Some specific signs that caregivers can look out for are:

  • A preference for playing alone
  • Limited or no response to name by 12 months of age
  • Does not share their interests with others
  • Delayed speech, few or no gestures, and/or repeated words or phrases. It is also common to receive unrelated answers to questions
  • Fixation on a topic of interest to the extent the child cannot engage in other activities due to preoccupation
  • Self-stimulatory behavior like rocking, flapping hands, and other seemingly involuntary motor expressions
  • Upset by minor changes to routines

Developmental Milestones:

If your child is exhibiting the behaviors below, you should contact your pediatrician.

By six months:

  • Limited or no smiles or other warm, happy-like, or engaging expressions
  • Little or no eye contact

By nine months:

  • Few or no back-and-forth sharing of facial expressions and sounds

By 12 months:

  • Little or no babbling
  • Little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, reaching, or direct waving
  • Little or no response to name

By 16 months:

  • Few or no words

By 24 months:

  • Few or no purposeful, two-word sentence structures

At any age:

  • Loss of language or speech
  • Little interest in others
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Delayed speech development
  • Eye-contact avoidance
  • Echolalia (constant repetition of words or sentences)
  • Refusal of small changes in routine or environment
  • Limited interests
  • Repetitive behaviors (rocking, spinning, dropping, flapping)
  • Unusual responses to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights, or colors
  • Difficulty sustaining relationships

While looking for these signs, it is essential to look at the context of these behaviors. Is your child struggling with social skills because they have limited social interactions with peers? It is also developmentally appropriate for young children to experience tantrums. It may be concerning when the tantrums occur all day or for long periods. As children develop language, they learn by repeating what is heard. It may be concerning if children only repeat specific words and do not have any additional words.

Observing these skills during playtime may be especially helpful. It’s imperative to judge the intensity of the behavior to determine where it falls on the scale. If observing a child under the age of 24 months, consider the child’s interest in sharing and engaging with other children.

What to Do If You Think Your Child Has Autism

Symptoms of autism most often surface by two years old. However, as you can see from the list, warning signs can be observed early in development. Research supports that early intervention can lead to more independence and improved quality of life in the future, particularly in academics, work-life, and relationships.

When seeking an autism diagnosis, it’s crucial to look for a professional and get a full assessment and evaluation for autism. In an ideal situation, this is accomplished by a team of professionals and includes interviewing parents and caregivers. At ABA Centers of America, our diagnostic process includes a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) observing the child’s behavior. A medical professional will also perform a physical examination and other tests.

The average age of diagnosis is just over four years old. Yet early intervention often means a diagnosis comes before two years of age. While it may be tempting to deep dive on the internet and try to diagnose on your own, it’s vital to seek answers from autism professionals.

Why Is Early Intervention So Important?

The power of early intervention is based on the brain’s ability to change, known as plasticity. The sooner a child with autism receives treatment, the more likely they can learn skills easier. Caregivers can support children during early intervention services by being patient and devoting plenty of time to understanding your child’s comfort zone. Then it will be possible to start to help them step outside of that comfort zone gently.

If your child is older, it doesn’t mean that they are too old for an autism diagnosis and treatment. ABA therapy is beneficial at any age and can greatly improve socially significant behaviors and quality of life.

The takeaway here is that it is never too late to begin treatment, and the journey doesn’t have to be scary. You are not alone in this. Neither is your child. There are networks, support groups, organizations, and treatment centers established to improve the quality of your child’s life.

Autism Treatment at ABA Centers of America

While nothing will undo an autism diagnosis, there are always opportunities and breakthroughs on the horizon. At ABA Centers of America, our Board Certified Behavior Analysts have years of specialized training. They keep up to date on the latest research and treatment methods through continuing education. For more information about our centers, mission, and treatment options, contact us. ABA Centers of America offers free consultations.