A recent National Health Study indicates that 1 in 50 children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a significant increase from the most recent Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) most recent study which indicated the rate was 1 in 88.
ASD is distinguished by a wide variation of social, communication and cyclical behaviors that are considered somewhat out of character for children. Every person with autism will experience these symptoms differently on a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe. However, the ten behaviors listed below are considered early warning symptoms of autism in children.
- Disconnection to others: Autistic children often seem distant or disconnected to loved ones (i.e. their parents). They often seem unable to register pleasant social cues – particularly facial expressions like a laugh/smile versus an angry look. It is not that autistic children are disconnected emotionally; they just don’t pick up or understand social cues as well.
- Apparent lack of empathy: Children with autism often have difficulty seeing things from someone else’s perspective. This is because many individuals with autism believe everyone understands the world as they do. This can create confusion or the inability to anticipate or understand the actions of others.
- Indifferent to human interaction: By nature, most children are very social. However, infants with autism do not engage by staring at other’s faces, being attracted by their name, mimicking facial expressions, or grasping at the fingers or hands of others while playing. Rather, children with autism often fail to respond when called by name nor do they seem overly interested in participating in social games with their peers.
- Emotional outbursts: In some rarer cases, children with autism will display unbalanced emotional reactions to normal situations. There are times they seem unable to control their emotional and physical responses in strange or stressful situations.
- Delayed language development: By age 3, the majority of toddlers start to babble or mimic the language of those with whom they interact, usually pronouncing a single word as they point to an object or attempt to get someone’s attention. Infants/Toddlers with autism may not start to babble or speak until much later within the intervention of speech therapy.
- Prone to nonverbal communication: Autistic children have a propensity towards nonverbal communication due to their delayed communication skill development. They may choose visual or physical means of communication – such as drawing pictures or using sign language to communicate their needs.
- Difficulty understanding figurative expressions: All too often, autistic children have difficulty understanding demeanor (happy vs annoyed); tone of voice (literal vs sarcastic); and body language (welcoming vs distant).
- Repetitive behaviors: Persons with autism are prone to repetitive behaviors. For example, they may arrange and rearrange the same group of objects repeatedly, rock, flutter their hands, or repeat the same word or phrase in what may appear to be an obsessive manner.
- Pica: Individuals with autism are prone to pica, a behavioral tendency to eat objects that are not food. Children may need monitoring outdoors or while at school so they do not consume clay, dirt or paste. They also frequently put fingers and unsafe objects in their mouths.
- Sensitive to external stimuli: Autistic individuals may become stressed or agitated by certain noises, lights, smells, tastes or textures. They may become so hypersensitive to certain stimuli (wearing certain materials, rooms with bright lights or loud sounds, and even being touched in a certain manner) that they become sensory defensive, and lash out or break down when exposed.