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Let me share the story of Alice, a pretty 2-year-old child. Her parents were worried about her physical and mental development as Alice was not much active and was not doing things that a normal child does, like making gestures or laughing heartily. Alice’s parents tried to help her by providing toys and playing games with her, but the efforts were all in vain. Alice rarely made any eye-contact with other people and her parents were perplexed about the situation. Alice was suffering from Autism spectrum disorder. But the question is how to spot autism in the child. There are different opinions among doctors, parents, and experts about what causes autism and how best to treat it but every one of them agrees that early intervention helps in mitigating the symptoms and normalizing the lifestyle of an autistic child.

How to spot autism in babies?

If autism is diagnosed in infancy, the treatment regime can take the utmost advantage of brain plasticity due to the young age of the child. Although autism is hard to diagnose before a period of 24 months, symptoms often surface 12th month onwards. In case, the signs of autism are detected by 18 months of age, intensive treatment may help to even reverse the symptoms and gift a normal lifestyle to the child.

In some cases, the earliest symptoms of autism are misinterpreted as signs of a “well-behaved child”, since the infant may seem quiet and undemanding. However, these signs can help you know what to look out for:

  • Do not make eye contact or smiling response when being fed or called.
  • Do not respond to sounds of familiar voices or when being called.
  • Do not make baby noises to attract attention.
  • Do not respond to cuddling or when reached out for.
  • Do not use hand or face gestures to communicate.
  • Do not play with family members or peers.
  • Do not notice if the other person is experiencing discomfort.

How to spot autism in older children?

As children get older, many warning signs and symptoms evolve around difficulties in social skills, speech, non-verbal communication, and behavior.

Social skill issues

  • Appears disinterested or unaware of their environment.
  • Doesn’t know how to interact with relatives and peers.
  • Prefers not to be hugged or cuddled.
  • Has difficulty in understanding or sharing feelings.
  • Doesn’t share or talk about their interests with others.

Difficulty in speech and language

  • Speaks in an abnormal or odd voice, with an unusual rhythm.
  • Repeats words or phrases without intent.
  • Responds to a question by repeating it without understanding
  • Has difficulty communicating personal needs or desires
  • Doesn’t understand simple directions or statements.
  • Does not understand subtle humor or sarcasm in sentences.

Difficulty in non-verbal communication

  • Avoids eye contact.
  • Facial expressions don’t match with statements.
  • Doesn’t mimic other people’s facial expressions or gestures.
  • Makes very few gestures to communicate.
  • Reacts unusually to sights, smells, textures, and sounds.
  • Abnormal posture, clumsiness, or unusual movements.

Inflexibility in behavior

  • Follows a rigid routine.
  • Has difficulty adapting to any changes in the environment.
  • Shows obsessiveness or unusual attachments to toys or particular objects.
  • Shows signs of preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest.
  • Spends long periods watching iterative moving objects such as a ceiling fan.
  • Repeats the same actions or movements over and over again.

If you are the parent of a child suffering from Autism, you’re in the best position to spot the warning signs of autism. You can rely on a pediatrician for valuable advice but you are the one who is more familiar with your child’s behavior and quirks. It is never too late to educate yourself about the symptoms to look out for. If your child is not meeting the developmental milestones with proper age, it is advisable to share your concerns with the pediatrician urgently. Ideally, a pediatrician will take your concerns seriously and work towards a thorough evaluation for autism or other developmental issues. But if the doctor misses some red flags or deems your concerns insignificant, and yet your gut-feeling says something is wrong, go-ahead for a second opinion, or approach a child development specialist.