Recognizing that your child’s behavior may not be typical is difficult — especially if it’s your first child.
Your baby is cooing, babbling and beginning to pick up on her first word. Everything seems OK, but if this is your first child, how do you really know? “Is she where she needs to be?” is a thought that crosses many young parents’ minds. Knowing if your child is developmentally behind — or even showing signs of autism spectrum disorder — is a hard thing to fathom. But diagnosing autism when a child is young is important for their best developmental outcome.
If there comes a moment when you suspect something — that gut instinct that tells you something’s not quite right — do your best not to ignore it.
According to Maureen Gallagher, M.D., a pediatrician at TriHealth, attending well visits is important when it comes to your child’s development.
“Children will be screened for autism at their 18 month well-child check,” Gallagher says. “If the child is not starting to develop good language skills (saying ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ and a few other words by 18 months), is not showing interest in parents’ and siblings’ activities, or making good eye contact, it is very important for parents to bring this to the doctor’s attention,” she adds.
At well visits, your pediatrician will always ask you basic behavioral questions and observations about your child. At some point you may be asked to fill out an autism screen. If your pediatrician’s at all concerned, you will be referred to a developmental specialist who specializes in diagnosing and treating autism.
About Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children with autism have communication and social interaction deficits as well as repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. According to Paul Carbone, M.D., co-author of Autism Spectrum Disorder: What Every Parent Needs to Know (American Academy of Pediatrics; 2019), “The signs and symptoms for most children are there between 12 and 24 months; if we can get them in for evaluation, the therapies are available as young as those ages — you can easily start by 2,” he adds.
Gallagher identifies what parents can look for.
“Babies with autism may not develop a social smile (usually noticed by around 2 months) or begin to track or fix on objects as they move,” says Gallagher. “During toddler hood and beyond (age 1 and up), parents may start to notice language does not develop as other children’s does,” she adds.
And according to Carbone, as early as 9 months — and certainly by 18 months — a typical child will look back and forth between an object of interest and a caregiver while a child on the spectrum is less likely to.
As a child on the spectrum grows, behavioral issues may show up, such as unusual meltdowns or becoming easily disturbed by noises. A child may become fixated on unusual objects or develop strange movements. It is difficult in this stage of adjustment, but you are not alone on your journey. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 59 children in the U.S. have autism.
“There will be struggles that the child faces compared to peers without autism, but the child can live a full life,” assures Gallagher. “Early intervention through therapies can lead to positive outcomes,” she adds.
Occupational, speech and behavioral therapy are some treatments that can lead to positive outcomes for your child. It’s critical to find a specialist you are comfortable with, but you should also know that there will be no quick fixes. If you are able to identify a developmental issue with your child early, there’s a greater hope of providing what he needs as soon as possible.
HELPFUL LOCAL RESOURCES
Cincinnati Center for Autism; cincinnaticenterforautism.org
Creates individualized programs.
Kelly O’Leary Center; (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital); cincinnatichildrens.org
Diagnosis, treatment, support.
Autism Speaks; autismspeaks.org
Provides support for all with autism and their families.
The Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati; autismcincy.org
Navigate local resources with personal assistance.
Zoom Autism Magazine; geekclubbooks.com
Resources and educational materials written by the autism community.