Signs and Symptoms of Autism: What to Look for in Kids

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From vaccines to older age, autism has been linked to a number of different factors and while there is so much speculation, there's one thing you know for sure: the stark statistics. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boys are affected four to five times more than girls, and ASD affects more than two million persons in the U.S. 

And, although actress Kristin Cavallari recently re-opened the debate on childhood vaccines and autism; the overwhelming majority of doctors do not believe that childhood vaccines are linked to autism.

"Parents can rest assured that no link exists between vaccines and autism," says Beaumont Children's Hospital Pediatrician Dr. Seth Faber, one of the doctors at Beaumont Children's Hospital Center for Human Development Autism Evaluation Clinic. "Of course, there is no shortage of statements to the contrary on the Internet or from the latest celebrity interview," he says.

Faber continues, "Parents can feel confident due to an abundance of evidence that they can protect their children against infectious diseases without increasing their risk of autism."

The Beaumont Children's Hospital Center for Human Development’s HOPE Center provides Hands-On Parent Education (HOPE) to families of children with ASD and other developmental disorders.

Symptoms of ASD?

Lori Warner, Ph.D., director, HOPE Center notes that ASD can have many manifestation but there are some common "red flags." Warner says,

"Usually, families tell us that they have noticed that their children do not respond consistently to social cues, such as someone calling their name or talking to them. They may make less eye contact than their peers, and may not try to interact as much as other children."

The following are the most common symptoms of autism. However, it's important to note that each child may experience symptoms differently.

"There is a popular saying, 'If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism,'" Warner says. "It is crucial to treat each person individually and not make assumptions based on a diagnostic category or label."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD symptoms may include:

  • Child does not socially interact well with others, including parents
  • Shows a lack of interest in, or rejection of physical contact.
  • Parents sometimes describe autistic infants as "unaffectionate"
  • Infants and children are not comforted by physical contact
  • Avoids making eye contact with others, including parents
  • Fails to develop friends or interact with other children
  • Does not communicate well with others
  • Has delayed speech or does not develop language
  • Once language is developed, does not use language to communicate with others
  • May repeat words or phrases repeatedly, like an echo
  • Demonstrates repetitive behaviors such as rocking and hand or finger flapping
  • Is preoccupied, usually with lights, moving objects, or parts of objects
  • Has rituals
  • Requires routines

The symptoms of autism may resemble other conditions or medical problems. "Many times families think their children are hard of hearing, and this is often ruled out first," Warner says. 

Developmental delays

The following delays warrant an immediate evaluation by your child's pediatrician:

  • By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions.
  • By 9 months: No sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions.
  • By 12 months: No response to name. No babbling or "baby talk."
  • By 14 months: No gestures, such as pointing, reaching or waving.
  • By 16 months: No spoken words.
  • By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases.

If you suspect there is a problem with the way your child speaks, acts or plays, consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

"Although early intervention is the time of greatest potential and growth, families should not assume that older kids, adolescents or adults cannot continue to learn, grow and change," Warner says.

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