The moment you suspect your child could have a developmental disorder is devastating. Perhaps your younger child isn’t doing a lot of the things an older sibling did at his or her age. Or maybe your 18 month-old started to develop communication skills and then stopped speaking entirely.
As a parent, you’re in the best position to identify developmental delays and spot the earliest signs of autism. While it can be difficult to acknowledge your child has a problem, catching it early and seeking treatment – ideally by the age of 18 months – can make a huge difference in how your child learns and grows.
What is autism in children?
Autism (also called autism spectrum disorder) is a series of closely related developmental disorders characterized by social interaction difficulties and communication challenges. Autism spectrum disorder appears in infancy and early childhood, causing delays in how a child learns to play, talk, and relate to the world around him or her. Symptoms and challenges can be mild for children on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, or they can be severe and interfere with everyday life.
Signs and symptoms of autism in children
The symptoms of autism in children typically surface between 12 and 18 months. While the earliest signs can be tricky to spot, you’ll have a better chance if you know what to look for.
Your child may have autism if your baby or toddler doesn’t:
- Respond to his or her name
- Point, reach, or wave “hello” or “goodbye”
- Make noises to get your attention
- Make eye contact when being fed
- Smile when being smiled at
- Respond to cuddling or reach out to be picked up
- Imitate your facial expressions
As children get older, the signs of autism typically revolve around social skills and language difficulties. Symptoms include:
- Not knowing how to connect with others or make friends
- Not liking being touched or hugged
- Doesn’t seem to hear when others are talking to him or her
- Doesn’t play “pretend” games or use toys in creative ways
- Repeats the same words and phrases over and over again
- Doesn’t understand simple questions or directions
- Takes what is said too literally; humor and sarcasm don’t register
- Doesn’t pick up on others’ facial expressions
- Assumes abnormal postures and is clumsy
- Has difficulty adapting to changes in schedule or environment
- Fixation on a very specific topic of interest, usually involving numbers
- Repetitive behaviors like hand flapping or rocking back and forth
Autism is a treatable disorder for children in San Diego
Early and intensive intervention is the best way to reduce the effects of autism and improve learning, communication, and social skills in affected children. Because each child on the autism spectrum is unique, what works for one child may not work for another. A combination of approaches may be required to achieve the best results. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following strategies:
Behavioral training and management to treat autism in children
This strategy utilizes positive reinforcement, self-help, and social skills to teach children how to communicate appropriately while reducing behavior problems and improving adaptation skills.
Specialized therapies for children with autism
Speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy are used to develop language and communication skills and improve impairments in coordination and motor skills. Occupational therapy is effective at helping children with autism learn skills for appropriate play as well as self-care skills.
Medication for autistic children
Medications are commonly used to treat conditions and problems related to autism, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Parent support can help children with autism
There are many advocacy groups available to help parents of children with autism learn about the spectrum of disorders. These communities also provide a place where parents of autistic children can seek support and connect with other families.
Functional Integrated Therapeutic Services in San Diego is here to help your child
If you suspect your child may be on the autism spectrum, the first thing you should do is schedule an autism screening with your pediatrician. If your child’s doctor detects signs of the disorder, he or she can refer you to a developmental specialist for further assessment and diagnosis. When you’re ready to seek treatment, come see us.
At Functional Integrated Therapeutic Services in San Diego, we specialize in helping children with autism learn the skills they need to function at the highest level possible and lead happy and healthy lives. Call us today to find out more about our services and to learn how our individualized, one-on-one occupational therapy program can address your child’s specific needs.