You’ve probably heard of autism spectrum disorders – they are common and varied. What I find from talking with parents is there isn’t a lot of knowledge about what these disorders actually are or how to look for signs that your child might be on the spectrum.
Autism Isn’t a Single Disorder
What most people don’t understand is that autism isn’t one disorder. Rather, it is a spectrum of closely related disorders that share common symptoms. The spectrum is broad and ranges from extremely mild to very severe disorders.
Everyone on the autism spectrum has issues with social interaction, communication, behavior and empathy to some degree, but the specific type of disorder they have relates to the group of symptoms and severity of those symptoms they experience. Because of the numerous disorders on this spectrum, it would be impossible to discuss all of them, and it often takes several visits with a professional along with rigorous testing to pinpoint which disorder someone is suffering from. There are, however, a few key things to look for to help determine if it’s time to talk to your doctor about whether or not your child might be on the autism spectrum.
Signs Are Usually Seen by Age 2
Not everyone on the autism spectrum presents symptoms the same way. There could be any combination of symptoms. If you’re concerned about a possible autism spectrum disorder in your child, here are some things you can look for:
- A delay in speech after age 2
- Speaking with an odd rhythm, pitch or tone
- Difficulty engaging in conversation
- Repeating the same words over and over
- Trouble communicating needs or feelings to you
- Odd body language, gestures or facial expressions
- Avoiding eye contact
- Trouble understanding other people’s feelings
- Displaying a lack of interest in things shown to your child – for example, if you point to an airplane and he or she ignores it
- Extreme sensitivity to certain sounds or textures
- A strong desire for routines
- A seeming obsession with odd items, such as rubber bands or air vents
- Often seeming disinterested in what’s going on around him or her
If you notice these symptoms in your child, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician.
What to Expect When You Talk to Your Doctor
Diagnosing autism can be difficult because there is no straightforward test. If your pediatrician believes your child might have autism, there are likely two steps that will need to be taken to make a diagnosis.
First, the pediatrician will conduct a developmental screening. This will involve allowing a professional to interact with your child to see how they learn, speak, behave and move. These are actually part of your child’s normal pediatric checkups and are probably being performed at 9 months, 18 months and 24 or 30 months.
If, during these screenings, your pediatrician believes there might be something hindering their development, he or she will likely recommend a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation with a professional who specializes in autism spectrum disorders. That evaluation will likely include a parental interview and behavior and development testing. It can also include vision, hearing and neurological testing.
There’s no cure for autism spectrum disorder and there’s no one treatment that outshines the others. The goal of treatment is to maximize your child’s ability to function by minimizing symptoms and supporting development and learning.
Treatment options may include behavior and communication therapies, educational therapies and family therapies. Other therapies, such as speech, occupational or physical therapy, and medications may be beneficial.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development, the bottom line is that it’s best to talk with your pediatrician immediately. Early intervention during the preschool years can help your child learn critical social, communication, functional and behavioral skills.
Dr. Jennifer Lai is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. She’s accepting appointments for kids of all ages. Her clinical interests include general pediatrics, newborns, autism and obesity.