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Early Signs of Autism

Reviewed on 12/8/2020

Autism Signs and Symptoms
Autism is a developmental condition in which the brain does not process the sounds, sights, and smells like an average person.

Autism is a developmental condition in which the brain does not process the sounds, sights, and smells like an average person. This results in behaviors that are considered socially awkward.

Delayed development of spoken language is usually considered as an early sign of autism. Other common early signs of autism may include:

  1. Lack of eye contact when you feed your child
  2. No cooing, babbling, smiling by 12 months age
  3. Not responding to their name
  4. The child has no facial expressions by 9 months of age
  5. No pointing or waving by 12 months
  6. The child does not speak by 16 months
  7. The child prefers to play alone
  8. The child does not like being touched
  9. Prefers fixed routines and even a minor change may upset them greatly
  10. Has trouble understanding feelings or talking about them
  11. No gestures, such as waving or pointing fingers
  12. Regression on milestones: A child that previously displayed all the above behaviors stops exhibiting them suddenly.
  13. Stimming: Your child shows certain repetitive behaviors like head flapping, twitching of the eyelid, twirling, flapping their hands, spin in circles.

What causes autism?

Autism or autistic spectrum disorder is a condition in which the individual cannot process sound, colors, and emotions like an average person. This causes them to have mannerisms like poor speech, anger issues, and certain repetitive behaviors (picking skin, twirling, neck movements).

Autism is diagnosed in childhood at around two years of age. Rarely, it may not be diagnosed until a person is an adult.

Causes

The following factors may predispose a person to develop autistic behaviors:

  • Genetic factors: Scans show differences in brain shape and structure in people with autism. Scientists think these changes are genetic (a part of a child’s deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA). It is more common if a relative is affected by the autistic spectrum.
  • Environmental factors: Autism is more frequently observed in the children conceived to the parents who were aged more than 35 years. If a mother has taken drugs like Thalidomide or antipsychotic drugs during pregnancy, the chances of autistic disorder in a child are high.

How to diagnose

There is no single test that can be used to diagnose autism.

  • Evaluations rule out hearing problems, speech, and language problems. These evaluations are very important because autism has a big effect on overall communication skills.
  • Checklists and surveys from parents, school staff, and other doctors who have observed the person in various situations. The questionnaires ask about the person’s behaviors, relationships with others, body use, verbal communication, and play habits.
  • The modified checklist for autism in toddlers, revised with follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F) is a brief checklist of yes/no items for early detection among children 16 to 30 months of age.
  • Autism diagnostic interview-revised (ADI-R) is a semi-structured interview with the child’s parents used by a trained specialist to help make a definitive diagnosis.
  • Autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic (ADOS-G) is a structured interview with directed activities also used by a trained specialist to help make a definitive diagnosis.
  • The childhood autism rating scale (CARS) observes a child’s behavior and uses a 15-point scale to evaluate a child’s relationship to people, body use, and adaptation to change, listening response, and verbal communication.
  • Think Asperger test is a brief screening tool in a portable mobile app format that aids in the informal detection of autism for parents, teachers, and medical professionals.
  • As per the latest research, magnetic resonance imaging or MRI and a few blood tests may help a doctor diagnose a patient with autism. However, the research is still in clinical trials.

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How to treat autism

The goal is to reduce symptoms and improve their learning and development.

  • Applied behavior analysis (ABA): This is usually followed in schools and clinics. It helps the child respond appropriately to positive behaviors and reduce the negative ones.
  • Developmental, individual differences, relationship-based approach (DIR): It is meant to support emotional and intellectual growth by helping him learn skills around communication and emotions. This kind of treatment involves the parent or caretaker getting on the floor with the child to play and do the activities they like.
  • Treatment and education of autistic and related communication-handicapped children (TEACCH): This treatment uses visual cues, such as picture cards, to help the child learn everyday skills like getting dressed.
  • The picture exchange communication system (PECS): It uses symbols instead of picture cards. The child learns to ask questions and communicate through special symbols.
  • Occupational therapy: This treatment helps the child learn life skills like feeding and dressing himself, bathing, and understanding how to relate to other people. The skills he learns are meant to help him live as independently as he can.
  • Sensory integration therapy: If the child is easily upset by things like bright lights, certain sounds, or the feeling of being touched, this therapy can help him learn to deal with that kind of sensory information.
  • Medications: There is currently no medication to treat it. However, some medicines can help with related symptoms like depressionseizures, insomnia, and trouble focusing.

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References
Augustyn M, von Hahn E. Autism spectrum disorder: Evaluation and diagnosis. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/autism-spectrum-disorder-evaluation-and-diagnosis

National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

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