Signs of Autism in Toddlers

No parent will like that their child have a problem. However, keeping a watchful eye on their infant for warning signs of autism is vital. Early detection of autism in toddlers can result in greater effectiveness of the treatment of related symptoms as well as other developmental issues.

The ideal age for detection and treatment of autism is 18 months. Irrespective of the stage, the treatments always help to reduce the effects of autism effect and aid the growth and learning curve of the affected child

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Autism spectrum disorders generally tend to elicit certain related core symptoms which appear in early infancy and childhood. It causes delays in the developmental areas such as speech, play and interaction with others.

Signs of autism and its effects vary from mild to severe impairments among different toddlers affected by the disorder. Most of the children with autism have problems in the following three areas.

  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Flexibility in thinking and behaving
  • The relativity with others and the world around them

The doctors, parents and experts differ in opinion about the cause of autism as no one is sure about it. But all of them agree that an early intensive intervention helps.

Autism in toddlers and role of parents

The parents are in a better position to detect the signs of autism in a toddler as compared to a pediatrician. As such one should educate himself to know about what behavior is normal.

  • Parents should keep a close watch on any social, cognitive and emotional developmental delays. Such delays in reaching developmental milestones may not necessary indicate the presence of autism in toddlers, but can be an indicator of greater vulnerability.
  • Speed of development in walking, speaking etc. of a child differs from one to the other. One need not panic if a child is slow in growth, but parents may consult a child specialist to alleviate the fears
  • It is important for parents to known that regression in any form is a serious indication of autism. Infants usually between 12 and 24 months with autism disorder start to develop skills, and then regress to have impairments in speech, understand simple gestures, social skills, etc.
  • Wait and see approach should not be accepted, as it may risk the loss of valuable time and a chance of improvement of autism in toddlers. In case, you are not satisfied with the opinion of one doctor, then do not hesitate to seek the opinion of another child specialist.

Symptoms of autism in toddlers

The earliest symptom of autism in toddlers is the absence of normal behavior such as not responding to cuddling, not looking at their mothers when being fed and not reaching out to be picked up.

Some of the early symptoms of autism in toddlers and babies include:

  • Absence of gestures use for communication
  • Do not make noises to get the attention.
  • No response to cuddling
  • Not making eye contact.
  • Do not smile when smiled at.
  • No response to familiar voices.
  • Do not visually follow movements of objects.
  • Do not play with others.
  • Do not ask for help.
  • Do not respond to facial expressions.
  • Do not reach out to be picked up

Delays in the following require immediate evaluation by a doctor:

  • No smiles or expression of joy within 6 months.
  • No initiation or response to sounds, smiles and other facial gestures within 9 months.
  • Limited or no response to name within 12 months
  • No spoken words within 16 months.
  • No meaningful two-word speech phrases within 24 months.

Language and speech problems:

  • Autism in toddlers results in speech and language deficits and such infants start talking late.
  • Response to a question is the repetition of the question
  • The pitch, tone and rhythm of voice is abnormal and odd
  • Frequent repetition of the same phrases or words
  • Referring to oneself as a third person
  • Inability to understand simple statements, directions or questions
  • Most statements have a literal meaning for autistic toddlers and children
  • Problems in communicating needs
  • Incorrect use of language

Non-verbal communication problems:

  • Autism in toddlers results in difficulties in using body language or in picking up of non-verbal cues.
  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Facial expressions do not match their words.
  • Do not understand other’s gestures. Make very few “robot like” gestures.
  • Reactions are to sounds, smells, sights etc. are unusual
  • Irregular posture and way of walking

Signs of inflexibility:

  • Autism in toddlers results in restrictive, inflexible and obsessive activities and interests.
  • Inability to adapt to changes
  • Unusual attachments to strange objects like toys
  • Keep a rigid routine
  • Are preoccupied with narrow topic of interests
  • Display of repetitive actions
  • Indulgence in self-stimulatory behaviors such as tapping ears, scratching, hand flapping, repeating noises or words, finger flicking, spinning objects, snapping fingers, spinning in a circle, moving fingers before the eyes, staring at lights, flicking light switches off and on, rocking back and forth, watching moving objects, lining up toys, head banging and wheel spinning.

Causes of autism in toddlers

The causes of autism in toddlers are not known. Studies indicate certain genetic abnormalities may be passed on from the parents to the child. A toddler with such genetic predisposition to the condition may develop autism due to exposure to harmful environmental factors such as toxins, pesticides, chemicals, air pollution, prescription drugs, etc.

Treatment of autism in toddlers

  • Early detection of autism in toddlers can assist is better treatment of the condition.
  • The affected toddlers may then undergo a number of therapies such as visual therapy to aid visual development, speech and communication therapy, physiotherapy for motor control and Sensory integration therapy which involves integration of the brain processes so that it successfully adapts to the environment and body.
  • It is essential to protect autistic children from various environmental hazards and problems caused due to developmental delays. Hence, they should be given all the necessary vaccines on time.
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