For centuries, Autism, more correctly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, was not well understood, or even perceived to be a unique, distinct condition. In fact, it was only as recently as the 1980s that ASD was finally classified as a unique disorder. Before that, people with ASD were categorized as being schizophrenic and treated as such. In the 21st century, fortunately, we now have a much better understanding of ASD, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the average parent knows exactly what ASD is.
As the name suggests, ASD presents a broad range of different symptoms that fall along a spectrum, ranging from mild expressions of a symptom to very severe, even crippling or debilitating. It is because there are so many possible symptoms of ASD that the disorder was hard to diagnose properly. Today, we understand that this is a neurophysiological disorder that may be passed on genetically from parents with ASD, to being contracted pre-natally, such as pregnant women becoming ill with rubella, an ASD forming within the child as a result.
But how do you identify ASD? When should you think about bringing your child in for an evaluation? Here’s a list of the possible symptoms you should keep an eye out for.
Because ASD encompasses a varied range of different neurodevelopmental disorders, this means that, on the surface level, parents should be able to spot certain general trends, and then start zeroing to see just how severe or specific those general trends are. This means parents should always start by taking note of general, unusual behavior.
The majority of ASD symptoms will be expressed as communication and behavioral issues. Sometimes parents may notice these symptoms right away, even in infancy. There is a precedent for this, as ASD children can be correctly assessed and diagnosed as early as 18 months—or 1.5 years—in some cases. The specific list of behaviors to watch for is as follows:
Eye Contact Issues
ASD diagnosed children can process sensory input differently from other children. In some cases, this can mean extreme sensitivity to actions that others find benign. Sustained eye contact, for example, can be too stimulating and in some cases even cause stress, so ASD children actively avoid it. If, after one year of age, you find your child is deliberately avoiding eye contact with you, especially if you are actively trying to maintain it, think about getting an ASD assessment.
Physical Contact Issues
In the same way that some sights can be overstimulating—and thus unpleasant—for some ASD children, in some cases, other ASD children will react similarly to touch and other tactile interactions. If you find that your child is purposefully, actively avoiding being touched, hugged, or any other forms of physical contact, even when expressing affection, this could also warrant ASD assessment.
For some children with ASD, traditional vocal communication can be extremely challenging, or even stressful. If you notice that your baby is still not yet verbalizing and attempting to speak when average babies are experimenting with vocalizing, monitor, and note down this behavior. This is another area where the range can vary, with some children being completely non-verbal while others appear normal at first, but then regress and lose their verbal ability.
There are other instances where an ASD diagnosed child is willing to communicate. However, the method of going about it can be unusual. Once again, this may due to differences in the way sensory input is processed or other causes. It can manifest in different ways, such as children speaking in a flat, emotionless, robotic tone devoid of inflection, or employing unusual rhythms or intonations.
When we talk about empathy, we refer to the skill that allows us to imagine what emotions another person must be experiencing, even if we aren’t going through the same experience ourselves. We see someone fall and get hurt, and can imagine their physical pain as well as emotional upset. People with ASD may not be able to read these cues and empathize. In some extreme cases, they may not even understand their own emotions when they experience them.
While many people have a habit or “tic” that they sometimes repeat, some ASD diagnosed children will form a heavy reliance on repetitive motions or behaviors. This can be a way to soothe anxiety or reduce other strong emotions. This can be as simple as a particular movement of the fingers, rocking the entire body back and forth, or a specific activity performed over and over again, such as washing hands.
The last and probably most dreaded symptom of ASD is what appears to be unprovoked or easily triggered aggression. In some cases, ASD children can be provoked into a violent rage over incidents many wouldn’t find appropriate to this level of response. If you notice your child is getting violently angry over seemingly innocuous incidents, think about an ASD assessment.