The number of people who have been diagnosed with autism has increased dramatically between the 1980s and the present, causing quite a deal of consternation for parents and caregivers. What is autism? At this point, what is known for sure is that autism changes how information is processed in the brain, altering the collection and organization of information in nerve synapses. Scientists and medical researchers are still working on discovering exactly what causes autism spectrum disorders, but all parents should learn to recognize the characteristics of children with autism so that they can get support for them as soon as possible; there is help for children with autism available.
Although autism may actually be diagnosed later in life, a diagnosis requires an onset of symptoms before age 3 — meaning that it’s important to recognize symptoms in infants and toddlers and seek testing accordingly. Here are some characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorders that you should remind yourself to look for if you have or work with children:
Autistic children tend to have trouble integrating themselves in expected social schemes. As infants, this may present as decreased attention to social stimuli and responding less often to their own names. As they grow older, autistic children may have trouble making eye contact or showing facial expressions. They may also struggle to build peer relationships, engage less with caregivers and seem uninterested in shared social experiences.
Some of the most common signs of autism show up in communication patterns. People are generally familiar with the difficulty autistic children have using language (either in the form of entirely delayed speaking or trouble using words even after mastering them), but it’s common for autistic children to also struggle with communicating through gestures, even simple tasks such as pointing. Autistic children who are having trouble communicating may repeat the sentences and actions of others — a behavior referred to as echolalia. Many communication struggles experienced by autistic children overlap with social struggles, such as having trouble starting a conversation.
Other characteristics of autism may show up in everyday routines or play time. Autistic children tend to prefer repetitive routines and get extremely upset or act out when those routines change. They may also make repetitive movements, and spend a great deal of time doing the same thing over and over. In play, autistic children tend to show interest in a limited number of toys or range of activities, and lack play-pretend or make-believe skills.
What are some other characteristics of children with autism that parents and other caregivers can be on the lookout for? Share your experience in the comments.