Autism Spectrum Disorder affects social skills, behaviors, interests, speech, and nonverbal communication.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD have difficulties learning, socializing, and interacting with other children. Autism is a misunderstood disorder that is also difficult to diagnose because it occurs in a spectrum, giving autistic children unique strengths and needs. However, early identification of autism is vital to ensure that these children and their families receive the support they need.
To diagnose ASD, mental health providers use clinical interviews, behavioral rating scales, and observations. In addition, the child may undergo a one-on-one assessment to check their cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development. The ADO-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation) schedule is often the standard for an autism assessment.
Autism Spectrum Disorder affects social skills, behaviors, interests, speech, and nonverbal communication. Some children are behaviorally impaired, while others are intelligent and exhibit specific behaviors. However, all children with ASD experience practical challenges in their daily and social lives, affecting their communication, learning, and attention.
Social communication difficulties and restricted or repetitive behaviors and interests characterize autism. Autism is also comorbid with other disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety, ODD, and executive functioning disorders.
Autistic children have complex and layered needs to manage the behaviors that affect their mental and physical health. As a result, support is needed at home and school to accommodate their needs. Early intervention is known to produce better life outcomes. Knowing the signs of autism is the first step.
Here are some indications that a child may have autism:
1. Inability to speak previously acquired words
An autistic child with regressive autism suddenly loses speech after appearing to develop normally. This symptom usually shows in a child’s 15th to 30th month. The loss may be slow or rapid, and an extended period of stagnant skill development may also follow.
2. Speech delays, babbling, or social dysfunction
The presence of speech delays in your child does not necessarily indicate that they have autism. However, children with autism often have speech delays and other communication issues, such as lacking gestures, inability to respond when called, and difficulty connecting with others.
3. Slow learning or processing of information
Sensory stimulation may be delayed in autistic children due to their fragmented perception. For some, they may experience delayed auditory perception. For example, when you say something to an autistic child, you may not get an immediate response as if they didn't hear you.
4. Limited eye contact
Eye contact avoidance is often an early indicator of autism. In many cases, such difficulties persist throughout adulthood. The lack of eye contact contributes to the child's cognitive deficits while creating significant social barriers.
5. Inability or unwillingness to interact
Despite their desire to interact with others, many children with autism find social interaction too overwhelming and frustrating. Children with autism often find social settings unbearable and stressful. It's painful because their brains constantly process sounds, sights, noises, and sensations.
6. Low activity levels
Due to their social, behavioral, and motor impairments, children with autism engage in fewer physical activities. The more severe the autism symptoms, the greater the coordination issues, which makes them less inclined to participate in physical activities. Environmental causes, such as limited inclusive activity programs in schools and minimal staff with ASD training to help them, also contribute to the problem.
7. Lack of back-and-forth engagement
Joint engagement is difficult for children with ASD. When interacting, they find it difficult to pay attention to a person and an object simultaneously. It's why they spend a lot of time playing alone with toys. This is part of why they miss out on many opportunities to communicate and interact.
8. Incapacity to show facial expressions
Unconsciously, people mimic the other person's behavior and facial expressions during conversations, reinforcing their social bonds. However, this synchrony breaks down between autistic and neurotypical children. It explains why autistic children have fewer opportunities to relate to other kids and develop friendships.
9. Anxiety and irritability
Children with ASD are prone to aggression, anxiety, and irritability. Autistic children are likely to exhibit severe tantrums and self-harm behaviors due to a dysregulated nervous system and problems modulating sensory information. These symptoms affect the child's performance at home and school, leading to even more impairment and distress.
10. Attachment to particular objects
A majority of autistic children have rigid routines, obsessions, and rituals. It’s part of the reason why children with autism can be very focused on their favorite toys and activities. Their restricted interests also are why they have preferred topics of conversation that it very hard for them to discuss other topics.
Help for Children with Autism
Without a calm brain, learning becomes even harder for a child with ASD, especially with such significant sensory processing issues. Kids with ASD have very active nervous systems that can cause them to go into fight, flight or freeze more easily.
Therefore, it is essential to calm the brain first. Some safe and effective ways to manage the brain and reduce autistic behaviors are occupational therapy, nutritional changes, neurofeedback, biofeedback, and CALM PEMF™.
As a critical component of ensuring the physical and mental wellness of children with autism and their families, parent psychoeducation and early intervention are necessary. The goal is to address underlying issues and co-morbid conditions such as sleep disturbance, gastrointestinal dysfunction, low-stress tolerance, and sensory sensitivity, including poor social engagement, executive functioning, communication, and learning to give autistic children a higher chance of living a normal life.
Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets, including CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”
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