Signs of autism in kids: how to spot it and how we can help
As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and as they hit their developmental milestones you may start to see signs in their behavior that separate them from their peers. It could be a lack of eye contact, delayed language or just an inkling that something is different. If this is the case, then you may want to start the journey towards getting your child evaluated and possibly diagnosed with autism. Like many parents in this situation, you may be feeling overwhelmed. What are the signs of autism in kids? How does one start the process of getting a diagnosis?
In this guide, we will reveal some of the most common signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in babies, toddlers and teenagers to help you make an informed decision about the progress of your child’s development and whether to seek help with an ASD assessment.
Of course, every child develops at a different pace. Some are walking before age 1, while others need a little more time before taking their first few steps. But as a parent, you know when your child is developing differently from their peers. And while it’s important to adopt a ‘stages not ages’ philosophy, there are some developmental signs that could lead you to suspect your child has ASD. If you’re seeing these potential signs of autism, those require professional investigation.
When do signs of autism start?
Signs of autism in kids can start at any age. The first signs of autism can even appear before age 1. A lot of it depends on the child. As parents, you get to know what’s normal for your child and you will be able to spot signs that separate them from their siblings or peers. These signs can start early.
Signs of autism in babies
Signs of autism in babies may be very subtle. They can include:
- a lack of eye contact
- not responding to their name
- appearing not to hear or respond to people
- not being able to interact with people, toys and objects
- delayed speech
- obsessions, such as lining things up
- sensory overloads from smells, noises and even repetitive movements
Every child will display differently, so having a comparison with other children is always helpful.
The big three signs to look out for are social and communication difficulties, different behaviors and interests that are atypical to other children.
Signs of autism in toddlers
Signs of autism in toddlers are when social difficulties become more apparent. Parents should look out for how their children are playing with toys. Does your child play similarly to others and can they engage with their peers? There can also be language delays at the toddler stage.
Other children of the same age might be forming short sentences or babbling, but your child might only say a word or two, or perhaps isn’t motivated to communicate or be social.
Signs of autism in teenagers
There’s a greater shift in behavior among people with autism as they reach their teenage years. Triggers become more apparent through their lack of coping skills and being unable to recognize emotions. This lack of social skills can further separate them from their neurotypical peers.
However, some children, especially girls, are good at masking their autism and hiding their differences, making it harder for others to recognize.
A big issue with spotting signs of autism in kids in their teenage years is that it presents differently between boys and girls. Non-neurotypical typical children interact differently, and it’s known that girls are far more likely to mask their behavior to fit in with their neurotypical peers.
Much of the original analysis of autism and its diagnosis is based on male autism. This leads to many girls initially being diagnosed with ADHD because they’re masking the social difficulties and simply seem hyperactive.
How to get your child assessed for autism
If, as a parent, you suspect that your child has autism, the first step is to see the child’s pediatrician. The pediatrician can carry out an initial assessment and will then refer your child to specialists for further evaluation and diagnosis.
Other routes to a referral include seeing an occupational or speech therapist.
When to start ABA therapy (and what to expect)
Once a diagnosis has been given, then early intervention from ABA therapists can begin. Research has shown that the earlier the intervention, the more successful the child will be later in life. ABA therapists at Illuminate can work with both parents and the child as they go through the diagnosis process, meaning therapy can start at the first possible opportunity.
After diagnosis, and if meeting an ABA therapist for the first time, parents should expect a few sessions where the therapist will get to know the family and child. This process enables the therapist to get a good insight into the child’s level of ASD and the best form of treatment, whether that’s early intervention for babies and toddlers or developing functional living skills for older children and teenagers. Through this initial – and ongoing – assessment, Illuminate’s ABA therapists can develop bespoke goals for the child and family.
Questions parents should ask an ABA therapist
The initial assessment period is also a great time for parents to really investigate autism spectrum disorder and ABA Theory. Every parent should be prepared to ask plenty of questions. A good ABA therapist will encourage lots of questions.
Not only does this help parents learn and feel less overwhelmed, but it also helps the therapist build a picture of the family and the challenges they have faced. Parents asking questions also helps a therapist formulate goals for everyone in the family.
Common questions parents might want to ask their ABA therapist include:
- What does autism look like for their child?
- What will be the therapy setting?
- How will the therapist interact with my child and family?
- What are some of the activities the therapist is going to work on?
- How will I be involved in the therapy, and what can I do to support and help the therapy?
The more questions parents ask, the better their understanding will be of the therapy as their child starts. The therapist will also ask parents or caregivers questions as part of the assessment process. These questions will give the therapist a better idea of the child and their needs.
Questions an ABA therapist will ask parents
Common questions an ABA therapist might ask parents include:
- How do the parents want the therapist to intervene?
- How does the family want to support the process?
The ABA therapist might then create a plan for building life skills for the child or coach the parents so they can better understand and interact with their child.
If you have any doubts about your child’s development and believe you are seeing signs of autism, the first step is to take your child to the pediatrician. The doctor will have a good understanding of ASD and will be able to refer your child for assessment if required.