What Are The Symptoms Of Autism And How Do You Detect Them?

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Absence of some regular responses in children hint at autism– responding to sounds (2 mths), recognizing people (9 mths), imitating people (1.5 yrs), speaking in sentences (3 yrs), scribbling (4 yrs), and drawing (5 yrs). Utmost shyness or aggression in older children are symptoms, too. Autistic adults are socially awkward, exhibit obsessive behavior, and have unusual highly focused interests.

An estimated 3.5 million Americans have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)1 According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), it is the fastest growing of all developmental disorders in the United States. The CDC noted a 6 to 15 percent increase in prevalence every year between 2002 and 2010.2

What is Autism?

ASDs are any of five developmental disorders that affect the brain. They hamper the ability of the individual to communicate and inhibit social skills. ASDs are also usually characterized by some “unusual behaviors and interests.” The methods of learning and reacting to various stimuli are also different from the norm. Depending on the kind and degree of ASD, some people with autism can be gifted, while others may be severely challenged.

Spotting Autism in a Child

ASDs typically show up before a child turns 3. An estimated 1 in 68 children has autism in the United States.3 ASDs can be identified early on, not at birth but as a child develops. One study observed that while children with ASD reacted in a similar manner to those without at 6 months of age, the responses deviated significantly by 12 months. Vocalization with those around, sharing of smiles, and the frequency with which they gazed at faces all showed a declining pattern during this period.4

The CDC “Learn the Signs, Act Early Campaign” provides autistic indicators for various ages of children, with skills/responses to check for as age progresses. The absence of these responses is a sign of ASD.5 6

  • Response to sounds, smiling at people, watching moving things (at 2 months)
  • Reaching for objects, showing affection for caregivers, laughing, making eh/ah/oh sounds (at 6 months)
  • Looking where someone points, responding to their own name, babbling, recognizing people, sitting with help, bearing weight on legs with help, transferring toys between hands (at 9 months)
  • Pointing at things, shaking head to say no or yes, waving bye, searching for hidden things, saying words like mama/dada/bye/this/that, crawling, standing with help (at 1 year)
  • Showing things to others by pointing, recognizing what familiar objects do, imitating/copying other people, learning new words, reacting/noticing when a caregiver goes away or comes back, walking (at 1.5 years)
  • Using two-word phrases like “want mama,” imitating actions/words, following simple instructions, walking steadily (at 2 years)
  • Clarity of speech, speaking in sentences, working with simple puzzles/toys, interest in toys, playing with other kids, making eye contact (at 3 years)
  • Interest in pretend-play games, responding to people beyond family, telling their favorite story, understanding same vs. different, speaking clearly, scribbling with crayon (at 4 years)
  • Showing a range of emotions, responding to people, knowing the difference between reality and make-believe, playing a range of games, giving first/last name when asked, talking about their day, drawing pictures, performing daily activities like undressing, brushing teeth, washing hands on their own (at 5 years)

In addition, if a child loses skills they once knew or had learned, has trouble with walking up or down stairs, falls often, or exhibits stiffness or floppiness as an infant, it could be a sign of ASD. In older children, aged 5 and over, there may be behavioral extremes like extreme shyness or aggression. The child may also be inactive in social scenarios and withdraw into themselves. They may also be easily distracted and find it a challenge to focus on anything beyond five minutes.7

Autism in Adults: How Do You Tell?

In a teen or adult, you may need to look carefully for signs. Those with ASD tend to try and avoid eye contact and have impaired social skills. Conversation and small talk don’t come easy. Social situations make them anxious and they have difficulty empathizing. As such, they can’t really read into facial expressions or body languages and take cues from gestures. It becomes difficult for them to build and sustain relationships. Sometimes, they may not be able to even practice behavior that is socially appropriate or acceptable.

There is also a tendency to have a strict daily routine and the need to stick to this regimen. Obsessive behavior is common and interests can be unusual. Adolescents and adults with ASD are also usually either unresponsive or overly sensitive to light, touch, and sound.

To diagnose an adult, a trained psychiatrist (or psychologist) who is a specialist in ASD will talk about difficulties in social interaction, communication, and sensory problems. They will also discuss repetitive behavior and unusual or highly focused interests. Close family may also be interviewed to understand the developmental history.8

Benefits of Early Detection

ASDs are still not being diagnosed early enough. Many children go without treatment for years, struggling in mainstream educational institutions and schools, without the special care they need. These years are frustrating for the parents and the child. One study in the UK found that children are being diagnosed sooner than in the past (earlier decades). However, the average age at which they were diagnosed ‒ at 6 years – was still too late.9

Once diagnosed, a person can get the help required. It could be through one-to-one therapy with a psychiatrist/psychologist, or by joining an autism support group, or receiving the special care needed. In some cases, a doctor may also be able to prescribe medication to help with anxiety, depression, attention issues, irritability, or anger. Alternative therapy like yoga or meditation can also help with calming the mind and relieving anxiety. One study found that it helped with cognitive skills, improved eye contact, tolerance to sitting, nonverbal communication, social skills and communication, as well as responsiveness to verbal commands.10

Once diagnosed, modern medicine and alternative therapy can help greatly ease the burden on both the individual with ASD and those around him/her. This makes the urgency for diagnosis more important than ever.

References   [ + ]

1. Autism Costs More Than $2 Million Over Patient’s Life, Bloomberg.
2. Data & Statistics, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
3. Christensen, Deborah L., Deborah A. Bilder, Walter Zahorodny, Sydney Pettygrove, Maureen S. Durkin, Robert T. Fitzgerald, Catherine Rice, Margaret Kurzius-Spencer, Jon Baio, and Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp. “Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among 4-Year-Old Children in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.”Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics37, no. 1 (2016): 1-8.
4. Ozonoff, Sally, Ana-Maria Iosif, Fam Baguio, Ian C. Cook, Monique Moore Hill, Ted Hutman, Sally J. Rogers et al. “A prospective study of the emergence of early behavioral signs of autism.”Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 49, no. 3 (2010): 256-266.
5, 7. Learn the Signs. Act Early, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
6. Maestro, Sandra, F. Muratori, A. Cesari, M. C. Cavallaro, A. Paziente, C. Pecini, C. Grassi, A. Manfredi, and C. Sommario. “Course of autism signs in the first year of life.” Psychopathology 38, no. 1 (2005): 26-31.
8. Autism Spectrum Disorder, National Institute of Mental Health.
9. Howlin, Patricia, and Anna Moore. “Diagnosis in autism a survey of over 1200 patients in the UK.”autism 1, no. 2 (1997): 135-162.
10. Radhakrishna, Shantha. “Application of integrated yoga therapy to increase imitation skills in children with autism spectrum disorder.” International journal of yoga 3, no. 1 (2010): 26.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.