“I’m worried that my 3-year-old is on the spectrum”
You may have noticed some things are different with your child. As you know your baby the best, it is normal that you notice differences with their social behaviors. If you feel like there is something “off”, you should check with your child’s doctor first to see if they have autism.
There are also certain signs and symptoms that may indicate that your child has autism. Here are a couple of them that can be observed in your 3-year-old child:
- Not responding to their name when called,
- Avoiding eye contact,
- Has difficulty understanding other people’s feelings,
- Has difficulty expressing their feelings,
- Isn’t interested in socializing with others,
- Repeats what others say,
- Doesn’t use gestures or body language,
- Doesn’t understand jokes,
- Falls into repetitive behaviors,
- May have obsessive interests.
How Common is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities. They impair a person’s social and communication skills. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that autism affects 1 in 36 children in the United States.
With the advancement of technology, and the vast amount of knowledge we have gained over the years, it is not possible to detect ASD before the child turns one year old. However, sometimes these neurodevelopmental disorders can go undiagnosed until much later in the child’s life.
Early diagnosis is important in terms of giving the child intensive care and intervention so that the symptoms can be managed.
What Are the Causes of Autism?
The exact cause of autism is still not known. However, we now know that there is no single cause of developing ASD.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) states that both genetics and the environment could determine the risk of developing ASD for a person.
You can find out more about the causes of autism in our article regarding the causes of autism spectrum disorder.
What Are the Signs to Look Out For?
Autism spectrum disorder affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also causes issues with behavior and learning skills.
Over the years, certain signs have been found to be associated with having autism spectrum disorder. The following are some of the common signs of ASD:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Strict adherence to rules and routines
- Over- or under-reaction to sounds, touch, smell, or tastes
- Engaging in repetitive behaviors
- Delayed speech
- Issues with communication skills
- Difficulty understanding other people’s thoughts or emotions
- Not responding to name
- Not pointing at objects
Since ASD is a developmental disorder, the signs can be noticed when the child is young. There are a few signs that are noticeable in newborns.
There are developmental milestones the children are expected to reach at certain ages, like two months and nine months and a year. Failing to reach these milestones could indicate that the child may have autism or some other developmental condition.
It is important to note that children reach these developmental milestones at a different pace. So it is normal to have some differences in developmental times. Have your child’s doctor check the baby if you are having any doubts.
The following are some of the early signs that can be noticed in babies under one year old and toddlers who may have autism:
- Not babbling by four months old
- Not smiling by five months old
- Not being interested in games by eight months old
- Not responding to their name by one year old
- Not looking at objects pointed out by one year old
- Not liking being held or hugged by parents
- Not making eye contact
- Tendency to be and play alone
- Not developing language skills by 2 years old
- Only saying one word at a time or repeating the words again and again
- Not imitating others
- Engaging into repetitive behaviors like flapping hands
What Should I Do If My Child Is Showing These Signs?
Not meeting a developmental milestone at a specific age doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has autism. However, it is important to have your child checked out by a professional if you see any of the red flags .
Schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. The well baby appointments are important in terms of diagnosing ASD early on. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children, whether they show a sign or not, should receive routine developmental screenings at 9, 18, and 30 months of age.
There are some autism screening tools online in test form where you can get an idea about the situation. Also, professionals use similar tools, like questionnaires or checklists, to determine if there are differences with your child’s communication and behaviors. The result of these screenings are not diagnoses.
If your pediatrician detects signs of autism during such screening processes, they will most probably refer you to a developmental specialist. These specialists will conduct a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.
A specialist, like a developmental specialist, will be conducting a number of tests to determine if your child has autism. These tests will determine whether your child shows symptoms associated with ASD.
Making an autism diagnosis takes time. It is a difficult process involving both your child and you as their parents or caregivers. The specialist will test your child, and also ask you questions about them, about their communication, behaviors, habits and other aspects that may help deliver a diagnosis.
Getting an autism diagnosis is also difficult to process. But once you have suspicions and consult a specialist, you can start the early intervention. It is the goal.
These interventions will help your child if they are showing any developmental delays. Even if they do not meet the entire criteria of an autism spectrum disorder, they will benefit from the interventions if they have developmental delays.
When Not to Worry About Autism?
Parents and caregivers compare their children’s development against other children. You may notice that your child is not developing the way other children do. You know your child the best so you should trust your instincts.
However, there are times that you do not need to worry. Here are a couple of signs that your child is developing at the rate they should:
- Responds to their name when called between 9 to 12 months of age
- Makes eye contact with you
- Tries to say words you say between 12 to 18 months of age
- Smiles by 2 months of age
- Babbles and laughs around 4 to 5 months
- Imitates your behaviors
- Points to get your attention
- Copies your gestures like waving
- Likes playing games like peek-a-boo around 9 months of age
Early Intervention for Autism
Today, we really have a much better idea about autism and how to deal with it compared to the past. Increased awareness about ASD has led to earlier detection, opening the way to early intervention.
Early intervention is key to improving your child’s development. There are tools available that you can utilize to incorporate early intervention into your child’s life.
Speech therapy can improve speech and language problems before they become an issue at school for children diagnosed at a young age. Also, you can use songs and games to help your child with autism to become more comfortable with physical contact.
Research shows that children with autism who receive support from their parents and caregivers as well as educators and peers develop better social and behavioral skills. Handling core communication and behavioral issues at an early age will provide a better prognosis for the child compared to those diagnosed later in life.
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Advice from Doctors
Dealing with ASD diagnosis could be hard on the families. So it is important to listen to yourself and consult professionals to voice your concerns.
Dr. Ami Klin from Emory University School of Medicine recommended on the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation blog that you advocate for your child. This may seem like a really obvious thing to do, but you know your child the best so if you have a concern, start by talking to your child’s doctor first.
Your child’s doctor may adopt the wait-and-see approach. This is when they are trying to determine whether the diagnosis is certain and when they have concerns regarding access to and benefits of treatment.
If you have the chance, take your child to a clinician who is experienced in speech and language development and is familiar with autism spectrum disorder.
Dr. Klin also suggests that early signs don’t end with speech and language delays. Non-verbal behaviors will also give you an idea whether your child might have autism or not. Autism requires partnership with the caregivers and parents, clinicians, and teachers. Of course the disorder comes with the challenges. But it makes your child a unique person. With the right help, you will be able to give your child a comfortable and rich life.
What is The Difference Between a Warning Sign of Autism and Normal Behavior?
People are social beings by nature. When they are born, babies begin to smile at people and can calm themselves. They try to look at their parents.
But a baby with autism does not smile by the time they are 3 months old. They do not engage in interactions with their parents. Generally, they do not coo, babble, or make gurgling sounds. They do not turn their heads toward sounds. These are all normal developmental milestones.
There are several developmental milestones where children hit while growing up. These are considered to be “normal development” because they indicate that the brain of the child is developing in a way to allow gaining certain communication and behavioral skills.
Paying attention to faces, making eye contact, or responding to their name when called are all considered to be normal behaviors by the time the child turns one year old.
If you feel like you do not see your child making these milestones or something is “off” with their communication and behaviors, they may have autism.
How Can I Help As a Parent?
The best place to start is learning about autism. The more you know, the better you will be able to help and advocate for your child. You will be learning about the treatment options and involving in the treatment decisions.
You know your child the best. So be the expert parent or caregiver . You know what triggers them, what makes them outburst, or be frightened. You will know how to calm them. If you know what affects them, you will be able to eliminate and modify the situation in their favor.
Be patient. Autism is unique for each individual. Don’t jump to conclusions about what the course will be for your child. Be patient and embrace what comes next. You will be growing and developing alongside your child.
Getting a Diagnosis
Getting an autism diagnosis consists of multiple steps from consulting your child’s pediatrician to getting a diagnosis from a clinician experienced in developmental delays.
You may feel like it is a hassle to pursue a diagnosis. But getting one could bring a clarity and a sense of relief. It could enable you to be more prepared to provide your child with a better quality of life.
Once you speak to your primary healthcare provider and pediatrician of your child, they will refer you to a specialist if they notice some red flags. Your child will be screened. This will not be a diagnosis , but it is a way of indicating whether your child has autism or not.
Specialists and clinicians experienced in autism will deliver a definitive diagnosis. After that, you will be able to get the help you need to prepare a treatment plan suited for your child.