What is autism?
Autism (or autism spectrum disorder) refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. Besides that, it is caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences. As the Autism Speaks explains, the term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.
The neurodevelopmental disorder’s most-obvious signs tend to appear around 2 years of age and in some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Researchers says that around one third of people with autism remain nonverbal, whereas around one third of people have an intellectual disability. In fact, certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. These include gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.
How can you spot it?
According to experts, the timing and severity of autism’s first symptoms can vary widely. Some children show hints of future problems within the first few months of life, while some children’s symptoms may not become obvious until 24 months or later.
To help you understand better, here are the key signs and symptoms in children of different ages:
Possible signs in infants younger than 12 months:
- Lacks social smiles or other warm, joyful expressions directed at people
- Limited or no eye contact
- No sharing of vocal sounds, smiles or other nonverbal communication
- Doesn’t babble
- No use of gestures to communicate (e.g. pointing, reaching, waving etc.)
- Won’t response to name when called
Possible signs in toddlers 12 – 24 months:
- No single words by 16 months
- Won’t use two-word phrases by 24 months
- Any loss of any previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
- Walks on his or her toes or doesn’t walk at all
- Loses verbal or social skills.
For more info, visit Autism Speaks’ website.