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Signs Of Autism

Published on 10/19/2021

Are you concerned that a child or someone you love is on the autism spectrum? We’ve put together a list of seven common signs of autism to support your journey. However, remember that only certified diagnosticians can accurately screen an individual and determine if your concerns are accurate. It is never healthy to make assumptions that compromise your emotional wellbeing or that of your child’s! 

Based on screening results, specialists work with you to craft personalized, assessment-based interventions. We’ll also work closely with you to provide all of the resources you need for you and your family to live a normal, high-quality life.  

What Is The Autism Spectrum? 

We now use the term “autism spectrum disorder” to describe people who demonstrate multiple signs of autism. The National Institute of Mental Health writes, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.” 

While the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all children be screened for autism during their first few years, even dedicated caregivers can miss the signs.  

The following are seven signs of autism, including signs that are more likely to show up in teens and adults. 

7 Commons Signs Of Autism (Spectrum Disorder) 

There are no concrete diagnostic “tests” we can use to determine whether or not a person has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Therefore, we rely on assessing certain traits - including behaviors, communication styles, interactions, etc., that inhibit a person’s ability to connect with people or function successfully in “normal” environments.  

Again, it’s essential to remember that we all share certain common traits reflected on an autism spectrum. For some, those traits are exhibited at very low levels and aren’t a major impediment to enjoying day-to-day life. However, when these traits interfere with normal family life or impede a person’s ability to function well in school or the workplace, we create plans and interventions to support them. 

Difficulty making/holding eye contact or reading facial expressions

Babies begin to make eye contact and recognize - and replicate-  facial expressions early on. They quickly learn to identify the mood in a room, for example, which is why your baby or toddler may begin crying, feeling afraid, or clamor for physical comfort if parents are angry or arguing - even if the adults aren’t yelling. Those with ASD do not interpret these social cues the same way.

Children and adults on the autism spectrum usually avoid eye contact altogether or quickly bounce away from a parent’s gaze. Your smiles, expressions of frustration, or those warning glares from across the room that non-verbally communicate, “Stop that behavior immediately,” go wholly unrecognized and ignored.

Of course, some of us are more shy or introverted than others. Vision issues could also play a part in the inability to see facial expressions. However, by six months of age and assuming physical health and vision accuracy are validated by your pediatrician, a child should be smiling, laughing, and otherwise engaging with genuinely happy or playful facial expressions. S/he should also make regular eye contact. 

Has a stoic expression and isn’t prone to gesturing

Babies and toddlers wear their feelings directly on their faces. There is no way to doubt whether they are happy, sad, angry, or scared. They rapidly gesticulate when excited and love to wave hello and goodbye or play peek-a-boo.

Children on the autistic spectrum are different. Their faces often look devoid of expression altogether, giving them a blank or stoic look - regardless of the situations around them. Parents are less likely to get a wave goodbye or an excited gesturing of hello. By the time your child is four, five, and six, the family may note that they seem non-reactive to intense emotions and aren’t as likely to engage in playful games or “silly” interactions. 

Delayed verbal development

This one is very tricky. There are a fair amount of children who simply remain quiet until very late into their toddler years or even into the preschool years. This is not necessarily anything to be concerned about, especially if your child makes eye contact, reflects appropriate facial expressions, and seems emotionally attuned to the people and the environments around them.

If, however, your child has the first three signs and s/he isn’t speaking, it’s worth checking in with your pediatrician or contacting a behavioral specialist to schedule a screening.  

Doesn’t display empathy for others

Look on any playground, and you’ll see that most children, even children who can be “mean,” at times, show immediate empathy if another child falls near them and begins to cry, or they may even cry or show obvious signs of emotion when listening to a sad story, especially if it is told by a peer or someone they love. This is not the case for those with ASD.

They may even laugh or act inappropriately because they do not connect fall with the reality that the victim is injured. Instead, a child with ASD may either be completely oblivious and walk away or may chuckle a bit at the comical way the body looked as it tumbled off the play structure. A sibling or parent of a child with ASD will rarely if ever, be asked, “Are you okay? You look sad…”

You may also notice that your child has a very minimal or no response to most pain or to fear as other children do. 

Displayed repetitive or obsessive behaviors

Children with ASD often display repetitive or excessive behaviors. These can include: 

  • Rocking, swaying, or spinning. They may twirl fingers, flap their hands repeatedly, or walk on their tippy-toes for long periods of time.  
  • Having extreme difficulties with any changes in order, routines, or transitioning from one thing to another.  
  • Becoming obsessed with very few activities that are repeated throughout the day. If you interrupt or stop them, mayhem may ensue. 
  • Playing with parts of toys (like obsessively spinning the wheels on a truck or a CD in an old CD player) rather than the whole toy. Children with ASD rarely enjoy playing with toys that are personified - such as dolls, stuffed animals, or figures. 

Again, some of these activities are completely normal if a child is mechanical by nature, less apt to play “pretend,” or prone to living primarily in their imagination. That is why we look at a combination of signs rather than one particular sign when doing our assessments. 

Extreme sensitivities

Just like highly sensitive children, those on the autism spectrum can be extremely sensitive to: 

  • Bright or flashing lights 
  • Chaos 
  • Noise 
  • Environments with lots of activity 
  • Tactile discomforts such as seams on their socks or tags in their clothes 
  • Certain smells

Immediate or long-term exposure to these triggers can cause complete meltdowns. 

Continued signs of autism: recognizing ASD in teens and adults

Children with mild ASD or who spent their early years in an inattentive environment often make it into their teens or young adulthood before it’s recognized. We have many clients who didn’t realize they had ASD until a good friend or spouse recognized the signs of autism and recommended screening.

Children who go without an official assessment and diagnosis will continue to display the signs listed above, as well as : 

  • A persistent preference for solitude and with very little need for human interaction at all 
  • Struggles to play games that require taking turns or “getting out” 
  • Continued difficulty understanding or caring for other people’s feelings 
  • Very restricted interests 
  • Continued difficulty with any changes in the routine 
  • Unusual or intense reactions to environmental triggers 
  • Continued repetitive behaviors 

Trust Your Instincts And Contact The Autism Response Team 

The best piece of advice we can give to parents is to trust your instincts. If your instincts tell you it’s your child may be showing signs of autism, contact the Autism Response Team. (877) 772-7889. 

Our team of compassionate, licensed behavioral specialists will assess your child and the results can be life-changing. In addition, if your child does have ASD, we’ll provide you with a wealth of services, resources, and access to exceptional professionals and caregivers who understand exactly what you need.  

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