When you’re a parent and especially a first-time parent, it’s hard not to worry about your infant reaching typical milestones. We worry if they have developed motor control as expected, if they are walking when they should or if they have developed their speech at a typical pace. While we are more likely to keep track and have a better understanding of their physical development, their social and communication milestones are just as important. Autism is one such disorder that affects the typical social and communication development of a child.
What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disorder that mainly causes impairment in social interaction and communication. Autism is also referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder as the condition affects individuals in a broad range of behaviours and in varying severity. This means that certain individuals will need minimum intervention to cope while others might require a much wider and constant intervention.
Although Autism can be diagnosed by an experienced professional by the age of 2, signs and associated developmental delays of autism can be detected as early as 18 months of age. Although there is much dispute about what causes Autism, one thing all health professionals agree on is that early intervention is of utmost importance for individuals with ASD. Early intervention can not only help the individual with better progress but also provide their families with better support and understanding of the condition. To make a diagnosis, apart from observing the child, a medical professional will also rely on the developmental history of the child.
The core symptoms of Autism can be broadly categorized into two:
➤Social and communication difficulties
➤Repetitive & restrictive behaviours
Children are social beings by nature. We’ve seen little ones enjoy a game of peek-a-boo or burst into a social smile around their caregiver or familiar faces. Much before they learn to speak, we are treated to the pleasant sounds of an infant babbling, cooing and watching them gesture their likes and dislikes. With a child with Autism, some of these typical behaviours might be limited or absent.
A child with autism is likely to show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication. Limited or absence of eye contact as early as between 6-9 months could be one of the early signs. As the infant grows a lack of interest in peers or activities with others might be observed. While they might repeat sounds and phrases what they may not show is meaningful communication with their caregivers.
A child with ASD may show poor response to his name or not smile back when smiled at or point to objects of interest. With younger children, it might be noticed that they may not reach out to be picked up or respond to cuddling.
While the above doesn’t necessarily indicate Autism they could mean a developmental delay and it’s best to discuss them with your child’s doctor.
Signs of repetitive and restrictive behaviours may be seen through flapping of hands, rocking movements (also known as self-stimulating behaviour). Some of the common behaviours seen are staring at lights, headbanging, repeating certain noises or phrases. Some children with ASD may show ritualistic behaviours such as lining up objects, touching objects in a certain order and strong resistance to any change in routine.
Since Autism is a spectrum disorder, the signs and symptoms vary in their presence and severity. Each child develops at a different pace, so do not panic if your child does not hit a developmental milestone as expected. However, keeping a track of his development can help you recognise any substantial lags. If you see any signs or a lack of typical communication and interaction, share your concerns with your child’s doctor and you will ideally be guided to a thorough evaluation for your child. Early intervention is best but intervention at any stage will help the individual to cope with developmental delays and communication impairments.
Reach out to your doctor, get help for your family and seek support.