Key Things to Know About Autism

hands holding paper head with brain

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD, or autism for short) is a developmental disorder that affects communication, socialization, and behavior. While children are born with autism, its signs may not become noticeable until later in their development. For example: when they begin interacting with other children their age.

If you’re wondering if your child could have autism, here are some basics that may be helpful to monitor.

Autism Symptoms to Watch For

Most signs of autism appear by age two or three. In some cases, a child may be diagnosed as early as 18 months old. Watching for early signs is important, since early intervention is linked to positive outcomes later on in life.

The National Autism Association explains that children with autism have difficulty communicating, may repeat specific behaviors, and face a variety of other social and cognitive challenges. Some don’t express any symptoms until ages one or two, when they may begin showing a loss of some of the earlier growth skills they’d gained. This is known as regressive autism. 

Regardless of at what age they occur, autism symptoms to watch for include:

  • Desire to be alone
  • Lack of interest in playing make-believe games
  • Lack of speech or delayed speech
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Obsessive interests
  • Hand flapping, spinning in circles, or body rocking
  • Limited social skills
  • Repetition of words or phrases
  • Avoidance of physical contact

Children with autism may also engage in particularly notable behaviors, such as carefully lining up their toys, or playing in the same way over and over. They may become upset by minor changes, have obsessive interests, or express extreme anxiety over very specific things. It’s also common for children with autism to become fixated on specific objects, such as wheels. They may have frequent meltdowns, be hyperactive, act without thinking, cause self-injury, or be aggressive towards others.

Not all of these behaviors automatically mean autism is present, but they are all worth keeping track of and talking about with your pediatrician. 

Potential Causes

A leading national autism organization, Autism Speaks, notes that there is no single identifiable cause behind autism. But there are certain factors that appear to increase risk. These include:

  • Gene variations carried by parents
  • Advanced parental age
  • Pregnancies spaced less than one year apart
  • Complications during pregnancy or birth, such as low birth weight

We do know for certain that there is no link between vaccines and autism. While some families report the first appearance of symptoms around the same time their children have received their recommended shots, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has compiled many studies indicating the safety of vaccines.

Diagnosing Autism

Since there’s no single test to diagnose autism, doctors rely on a child’s behavior, parents’ observations, and other developmental baselines to make a determination. 

This is why regular well-child visits are important. During these, your child’s pediatrician may discuss developmental screenings beginning as soon as nine months old to monitor your child’s growth. They may also ask questions to track the common signs of autism. Afterward, if any signs seem present, they may recommend a formal evaluation from a specialist.If you think your child may have autism or have more questions about the condition, contact one of the caring providers from YourTown Health. Our team offers care for children of all ages and is ready to attend to your concerns. Visit our website to find one of our convenient Community Health Centers near you.