Autism, better known as an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, can cause a lot of anxiety for parents if they suspect their child may have this condition. There are many good reasons to be concerned, such as the fact that even to this day, ASD is still not comprehensively understood. Medicine has documented the many symptoms of ASD and established that there is a spectrum for the disorder, with varying degrees of severity. But the primary causes of ASD are not yet understood, and no cure currently exists for the condition.
What medicine does know is that there may be certain genetic components to ASD, since ASD parents can give birth to ASD children. There may also be a pre-natal element to the disorder, as some pregnant women that have contracted illnesses such as rubella have then given birth to children with ASD. But what does it mean when a child is diagnosed with ASD? What are the symptoms and where does a family go from there once ASD has been diagnosed? Here’s what parents should keep an eye out for if they’re concerned about a child having ASD.
ASD is regarded as a range of neurodevelopmental disorders. This means that there are multiple symptoms, usually based in nerve-related activity and the way sensory information is received and processed. In general terms, this means that parents should be on the lookout for unusual behavior.
ASD symptoms largely fall into unusual communication and behavioral issues. Parents may notice these symptoms very early on in the development of a child. In many cases, children can be brought in for an ASD evaluation by the age of two, and get a reliable diagnosis. If you see any of the following issues, you may want to consider an evaluation.
Lack Of Eye Contact
Because of the way that children with ASD process information, a simple action like maintaining eye contact can, even in very young ASD children, cause stress. ASD children learn very quickly that the best way to avoid experiencing unnecessary stress is to avoid eye contact. If your child even after the age of one year, seems to be deliberately avoiding eye contact, especially if you try to maintain it aggressively, this is a big warning.
Avoids Physical Contact
Most children prefer to be hugged, carried and physically interact with parents. An ASD child, however, will find physical contact to be overstimulating, and thus stressful. If your child rejects physical contact, avoids being touched or picked up, and prefers no physical contact at all, this is another sign.
In some cases, vocal communication can be challenging for some ASD children. If your child is still not verbally communicating at a time when average children are already attempting to speak, start monitoring your child, and thinking about getting an evaluation. Verbal communication with ASD children can vary; some are entirely non-verbal, others seem to learn to speak during infancy, but then regress and lose the ability as they grow older, while others learn to communicate verbally only much later.
Even when an ASD child does learn to speak, sometimes it can be very unusual compared to other children. Due to the way they process information, ASD children may find nuance and inflection to be too complex for them to understand initially, so they speak in flat, monotone voices, like robots. In other cases, the way they process speaking may mean they put an unusual emphasis on tone, and when they speak, it comes out lilting, almost like singing, even though they consider it normal, everyday speech.
Empathy is the ability of one person to understand the feelings and emotions of another. For people with ASD, this can sometimes be too difficult to process and understand without additional guidance. As a result, ASD children may not understand emotional displays like pain, sadness, anger or fright. This doesn’t just apply to others; they may not even understand their own emotional reactions when they occur.
Many people will have a personal “tic” they may not be aware of, such as unconsciously rubbing a ring on their finger, or touching an old scar. ASD children, however, may have a magnified version of this, with a frequent, repetitive motion that acts to soothe anxiety. The repetitive behavior can be small movements, such as a repeating hand movement, or it can be much larger, such as rocking the entire body back and forth.
Finally, one of the least desirable ASD traits that may express is—at least to an average parent—what appears to be unprovoked, or easily triggered aggression. ASD children can sometimes become very angry over incidents that most people wouldn’t justify as warranting a hostile response. If you find that your child has seemingly unprovoked, or unpredictable bouts of aggression, it may be time to bring that child in for an ASD evaluation.