autism spectrum disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Early Signs and What to Look For

Most children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) don’t receive a diagnosis until they’re three years old or older. However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains that many children will show symptoms when they’re much younger. The early signs of autism can be detected when children are between 12 and 18 months old.

Since early intervention can lead to better outcomes for kids with ASD, it’s important to identify the symptoms as early as possible. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the child, and can include communication, social and behavioral challenges. 

Communication Challenges

Children with ASD may start talking later than other children. They may not be able to say single words by the time they’re 16 months old, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Generally, kids should be able to say one or two words (like “mama” or “dada”) by the time they’re 12 months old, as C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital explains.  

When children with ASD start talking, parents may notice they use repetitive language. For example, they may continuously repeat words someone has just said. They could also repeat words that don’t relate to the conversations they’re having. Your child may start counting repeatedly, even though you’re not talking about numbers.

Other kids have uneven language skills, reports the NIH. If they’re interested in a specific subject, like dinosaurs, they may quickly develop a strong vocabulary in that area while their vocabulary in other areas lags behind. Children may be able to give in-depth speeches about the things that interest them while not being able to hold a regular conversation. 

Social Challenges

Children with ASD can also experience social challenges. They may not keep eye contact (or make very little eye contact) during conversations. Some children may not be able to identify other people’s facial expressions, and they may not respond to their parents’ facial expressions. If you smile at your child or make a silly expression, they may not respond. 

If your child has ASD, you may notice that they don’t seem interested in socializing with you or with other children. They may not point or gesture at things to get you to look at them, and if you point at something, they may not look. Some children with ASD may not bring items they’re interested in, like their toys or their drawings, to their parents. 

Behavioral Challenges

In addition to communication and social challenges, children with ASD may experience behavioral challenges. They may get attached to daily routines and have difficulty with change. Some kids with ASD get obsessed with a few daily activities and do them repeatedly. 

Other kids will exhibit something that’s called “stereotypic behavior,” reports the AAP. This behavior includes flapping the hands, twirling the fingers or other repetitive behaviors. Some children may walk around on their toes.

What To Do If You Suspect Autism

If you’re worried that your child has ASD, take them to their pediatrician. There is no single test that can diagnose the disorder, so doctors need to look for signs of developmental delays. They may ask questions about the communication, social and behavioral challenges your child is experiencing. They may observe your child to see how they handle social interactions. Tests may be performed to rule out other problems, like hearing loss. Since the disorder occurs on a spectrum, it can be hard to diagnose, and your child may be referred to a specialist. 

While there’s no cure for ASD, there are treatments that can help reduce the symptoms, the Mayo Clinic explains. These treatments can help children learn the communication, social and behavioral skills they need to succeed at school and at work. Some of the treatments your child’s pediatrician may recommend include behavioral therapies, educational therapies, and family therapies, depending on your child’s needs. For some children, additional therapies, like speech therapy, can be helpful.

How Dallas Speech Therapy Can Help

Speech/language therapy services can help children with ASD improve their communication skills, the NIH reassures parents. When you first meet with a speech/language pathologist, they’ll evaluate your child’s communication skills. With this information, they can create an individualized treatment plan. 

Younger children may need help developing their pre-language skills. These skills include imitation, gestures and maintaining eye contact. Once children have a strong grasp of these skills, they can move on to using words. They may learn how to use single words and phrases. Slightly older children can move on to learning how to hold conversations. Some of the skills these children may need to learn include how to switch topics appropriately and how to take turns speaking. They may also need to learn how to speak at an appropriate volume.

If you think your child may have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), have them evaluated by their pediatrician as soon as possible. Early interventions, including speech/language therapy services, can help your child reach their full potential. Contact the Dallas speech therapy experts at Bliss Speech and Hearing Services to learn more. 

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