Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism spectrum disorder is a brain-related disorder that causes problems in the development of social interaction and communication skills. It can also include repetitive or rigid behaviours that impact play and daily living skills. There are lots of differences across individuals, which is why it has the word “spectrum” in the name. Also, some children with this disorder have difficulty learning. Some show signs of ASD in early infancy, but others seem to develop normally for the first few years of life, and then suddenly become withdrawn, act out, and/or lose language skills. Usually there are signs by age two.
If you’re worried about ASD, it’s important to know two things.
First, while there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, early treatment can make a big difference. And early treatment starts with early identification and diagnosis.
And second, despite what some people say, childhood vaccines do NOT cause autism. No reliable study has ever shown a link.
What is normal?
All babies develop at their own pace, and many don't exactly follow the timelines as they’re described in parenting books. Many kids, at various times during their development, might show some of the signs associated with autism. But having a few autism-like symptoms doesn’t mean your son or daughter has Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is diagnosed based on multiple symptoms that disrupt a child’s ability to communicate, form relationships, explore, play, and learn.
What are common signs and symptoms?
The most common signs shown by people who have ASD are related to social behaviour, speech and language, and restricted behaviour.
Possible signs of autism in babies and toddlers:
- By 6 months, no social smiles or other warm, joyful expressions directed at people
- By 6 months, limited or no eye contact
- By 9 months, no sharing of vocal sounds, smiles or other nonverbal communication
- By 12 months, no babbling
- By 12 months, no use of gestures to communicate (e.g. pointing, reaching, waving etc.)
- By 12 months, no response to name when called
- By 16 months, no words
- By 24 months, no meaningful, two-word phrases
- Any loss of any previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
Possible signs of autism at any age:
- Avoids eye contact and prefers to be alone
- Struggles with understanding other people’s feelings
- Remains nonverbal or has delayed language development
- Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
- Gets upset by minor changes in routine or surroundings
- Has highly-restricted interests
- Performs repetitive behaviours such as flapping, rocking or spinning
- Has unusual and often intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colours
For young children, an ASD diagnosis can take some time after the first symptoms of ASD are noticed. This is due in large part because young children are all so different in the way they behave and develop. Clinicians revisit these children for a period to see what are typical differences and what are likely due to ASD.
Should I seek help?
Signs of autism spectrum disorder often appear early in development when there are obvious delays in language skills and social interactions. If you're concerned about your child's development, discuss it with your doctor, speech language pathologist, or local mental health professional. He or she may recommend tests to identify if your child has delays in cognitive, language, and social skills. Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder is not an easy or quick process. In order to accurately pinpoint your child’s problem, it may take multiple evaluations and tests as well as listening and learning from parents and caregivers.
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