In March of 2012, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 1 out of every 88 kids will be eventually diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Most often, this diagnosis will not come for certain before the age of 3, with many illnesses such as Asbergers syndrome not being diagnosed until around the age of 6 years old. The degree that children are affected can vary greatly from one child to the next and many autistic kids test extremely high on standardized IQ testing.
The problems often present themselves as developmental. Most parents begin to realize that there is a delay in some key developmental factor of their child by the age of 1, or 2 years old. Most of these parents, have inklings in the back of their mind that something is just not right with their kid as they compare to other kids their age. They may wonder from time to time, “Is my child autistic?” The problem, is that so many forms of ASD are so highly functioning that many doctors tend to relinquish parental concerns about development or behavior. Considering that around 70% of all the parents sitting in your pediatricians office at any given time are there due to concerns about their child’s development (or lack thereof), it is easy for doctors to dismiss parental worries.
Yet for these particular parents, there is something constantly lurking in the backs of their mind that something is just not right. One of the most profound statements made about autism comes from Anne Holmes, Director of outreach services at Eden Family of Services, in Princeton, N.J. She says that, “Parents have been diagnosing their children from early on. They know it, they feel it. They say to me all the time, "I just know something's just not right . . . the way he does this or the way he does that . . ." And they're right, usually!”
The author of the book, Could it be Autism, Nancy Wiseman - who is the mother of an autistic daughter, says this about the biggest difference between the parents of autistic children and non-autistic children.
“As part of my work with First Signs, I've spent a lot of time talking with doctors and researchers about the differences between young children with developmental delays and those without them. Time and time again, they tell me about one crucial difference. Children with developmental delays have parents who are persistently worried about them. So, if you are worried about how your child is developing, how he or she is learning and behaving, you should take your worry seriously. It could be a warning sign!”
And through her research and private experience with autism, she encourages parents as her number one piece of advice to trust their instincts and guts first and foremost!
The number one advocate that a child has is their parent. Studies have shown that parents of all educational, cultural, and economic backgrounds are able to recognize developmental warning signs. Where do parents get this amazing power of prediction? From observing their child and the children around them of course. As parents, we know when our kids are different, or behaving differently from their peers. And for many parents, a diagnosis of autism comes as a huge sense of relief that their worries are validated.
The following bullet points highlight the common core symptoms of autism and autism spectrum disorder.
Note: Depending on your child’s age, there may be other warning signs that you should talk to your doctor about.
- Major difficulties developing nonverbal communication such as eye-to-eye contact, facial expressions, and body postures.
- Difficulty or failure to make friends with children their age.
- Indifference and lack of interest to other people.
- Lack of empathy
- Delay in ability to talk, and with communication skills. Around 40% of autistic children do not speak.
- Repetitive use of language
- Unusual amount of focus and preoccupation with pieces of toys. Fairly common for young autistic children to be preoccupied with one aspect of a toy rather than the toy itself.
- A strong need for routines and repetition. Inability to handle change.
- Rocking motions of the body. Hand flapping. OCD tendencies.
- Regression of any kind.
Regardless of age, children who fall into any diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder have difficulty in three major areas of life. Communicating verbally and non-verbally. Relating to others and the world around them and thinking and behaving flexibly. While the degrees of difficulty greatly differ from person to person and there are many differing beliefs on how to treat and deal with autistic child, one fact remains consistent. The earlier parents can seek help and gain a diagnosis, and the earlier intervention can be started – the better off the child will be.
If you have nagging concerns about your child’s development, it is best to speak with your physician. Be aware that many doctors will take a ‘wait and see’ approach to your worries and concerns before implementing any sort of testing for your child. Since research shows that early intervention is best, you may need to take your concerns to another doctor for a second opinion. There have been a number of specialized screening tests developed to help parents receive an earlier diagnosis than in years past. If there are any concerns after screening, your child should see a specialist to enter the diagnostic phase of autism screening. This process is not instantaneous and involves a series of different testing methods. The sooner you start this process, the more quickly you will be on the road to intervention.
As a parent, remember that you are not alone and that today there is a large network of fellow parents, physicians, and community organizations designed to help and empower you to make the best decisions for you and your child’s future.