Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder whose prevalence has increased rapidly in recent years. Autism is a widely studied and investigated disorder in developed countries. Unfortunately, there is no reliable data available for its prevalence in Pakistan. 1 in 68 children in USA are affected by Autism. Studies indicate that boys are susceptible to it at least 4 times more than girls. Experts recommend to look for diagnosis of such disorders at an early age. Early intervention can greatly reduce the syndrome and children can join the mainstream social and educational circles. Unfortunately, due to lack of awareness and diagnostic abilities, Pakistani parents often recognize the disability as late as 2 to 3 years of age when signs become prominent. This article aims to assist parents in recognizing the early warning signs of Autism in children as it continues to affect increased number of families.
Significance of Professional Evaluation
The first thing to understand about Autism Spectrum Disorder is that the signs and symptoms vary from child to child. Moreover, the intensity of Autism varies from low-end to high-end depending on how intense the disability is. As parents are not expected to effectively read these symptoms, it is important to consult a professional psychologist as soon as possible. A large number of private schools in Pakistan have visiting psychologists on their panel. Parents are referred to these experts in case any developmental delay is found in their child. However, the prevalence of this disability is not limited to privileged ones. Moreover, majority of teachers or schools are not trained to recognize or even empathize with such children.
Common Early Warning Signs of Autism
Fortunately, with large set of information available on internet today, we have gathered numerous significant early warning signs of autism. Parents can evaluate and observe their child’s behavior on their own and can then approach professional help.
Early Warning Signs for 6-month old
Early warning signs of Autism can start from 6 months onwards. Some of the observations advised by experts include the following:
- No display of warm, emotional or happy responses by babies. Normally, babies at 6 months of age start to recognize family and friends around them and show excitement through giggling, hugs, kisses or other gestures. Babies with tendency for autism will often show blank response.
- Lack of eye contact
- Lack of responsiveness to their names or their parents’ sounds or other voices
Early Warning Signs of Autism for 12-month old
- Little or no gestures like ‘bye bye’ or nodding, pointing to specific things like fan, toy or recognized person. A normal developmental milestone for a 12 month old includes any kind of gesture. This shows his/her response to an activity, call, music or question.
- Lack of effort to make any sound or even babbling. Speech delay is pretty common in children with no disability as well. However, by 12 months of age, children start making certain sounds. This includes calling their parents or use of common letters like ‘da da’, ‘na’, or any other meaningful gesture.
- Uninterested in any kind of play like ‘peek a boo’, ‘tap tap’ etc.
Early Warning Signs of Autism for 18-month old
- Uses unusual sound, tone or voice for babbling or no babbling or sound at all.
- Extreme attachment to a particular toy or thing and carries around that thing for extended period of time. Attachment to specific toys or things is perfectly normal for kids this age but children with risk of autism show unusual attachment to specific things and are also observed to play with them in odd manner. For instance, an autistic child might seem to consider a particular doll as real human being and can be more responsive to that thing compared to humans around him/her.
- Underactive or lack of enthusiasm for fun activities or outdoor activities.
Early Warning Signs of Autism for 24-month old
- Unusual display of actions like hand movements including ‘repetitive flapping’, repetitive knocking, stacking or long stares at moving or rotating objects.
- Still no use of words or very limited words.
- Overly fussy or hyperactive for no reason.
- Ignores warnings or instructions or seemed to not hear anything that people around them are saying.
- No interest in kids of similar age or social gatherings.
- Unusual playing activities. Can be seen playing with a specific toy or role play with limited toys alone.
After the age of 2 years, the warning signs of autism remain almost the same. In case they continue to remain same or even worsen with loss of any skill previously acquired, parents should go for professional help.
The above mentioned warning signs are based on empirical studies over the years. However, since signs and symptoms of Autism vary from child to child, there are some other important points to consider in evaluating your child.
Signs of Autism can appear later than expected
Some children might show signs of autism later than expected. It is quite common for children to develop symptoms of autism after age of 18-24 months. For instance, their developmental milestones are normal till that age and suddenly start to appear after a certain point. Many autistic children are playful and responsive till age of 18 months or 2 years but suddenly start to withdraw from social settings by becoming quiet, unresponsive, hyperactive and angry. Subsequently, parents often contribute this change in attitude to simply bad behavior or stubbornness but such sudden changes in behavior are never normal and should be investigated immediately.
Don’t listen to ‘Wait and Watch’ theory of social peers
Due to lack of awareness about Autism and old parenting style in most Pakistani households, it is quite common for relatives to overwhelm parents with ignorant advices and suggestions. A child behaving detached or hyperactive is labelled as stubborn and rowdy who should be punished or tackled harshly. Where in reality, the child is developing symptoms of Autism that needs to be immediately addressed with professional help. A child who doesn’t babble or speak is termed as late talker and peers suggest to wait and watch till he talks like normal children. However, waiting in case of autism is the worst a caregiver can do as it can reduce the chances of addressing autism early. Trust your own instincts and get the child checked by pediatrician and psychologist if you think he is showing a combination of warning signs for any kind of disability.
Put in extra effort apart from relying on Professional Institutes
Online experiences shared by parents of Autistic children reveals that while there are some government and private institutions available in Pakistan who can help with reducing autism in children, parents have a greater role to play in this. The treatment of Autism is a wholesome approach where professional help and family and friends, all play a significant role. A child, whether or lower or higher end of autism spectrum, needs supporting environment both at home and outside to overcome his cognitive, neurological, social and emotional disabilities. Read professional studies online, contact parents going through same phase and keep in touch with psychologists to continuously and effectively play your part.