The signs of autism are usually quite apparent by the time a child reaches the age of 4. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that roughly 1 in 110 children are affected, with more boys suffering from the disorder than girls. Autism is a disabling neurological disorder that causes substantial delays in socialization, appropriate behavior and the ability to communicate effectively. Some children with the disorder are incorrectly believed to have mental retardation. The American Psychiatric Association has provided criteria for diagnosing autism. Diagnosis concentrates on evaluating the level of impairment in the quality of communication and socialization and observation of unusual behaviors.
Quality of Socialization
Children with autism have a difficult time picking up normal social cues such as facial expressions and tone of voice. By the same token, they are also difficult to read emotionally as the disorder prevents them from conveying empathy or sympathy. A 4-year-old with autism may not react at hearing their name called, rarely smile and avoid making eye contact. They also have a difficult time making and keeping friends.
Quality of Communication
It often seems that children with autism do not understand the purpose of language. Many appear to prefer the use of gestures. Some children never speak while others communicate with odd phrasing and some simply babble. A 4-year-old with autism will generally not communicate easily and will rarely, if ever, engage in or initiate conversation.
A 4-year-old child with autism will have some level of abnormal behavior patterns. Most will demonstrate some type of compulsive or ritualistic behavior and appear to find comfort in the repetition whether it is a single action or a series of actions. Some children engage in self-harming behavior such as head bang or hand biting. Others may wring their hands, flap their arms or rock back and forth vigorously. Children with autism often fixate on objects or routines and find it extremely difficult to disengage from an activity.
Autism can be very debilitating and frustrating for parent and child. However, when diagnosed early on children can be taught coping mechanisms that will help them interact in more socially acceptable ways and communicate more effectively.