Autism is considered a developmental disability characterized by marked impairment in social communication and interaction. The characteristics that define autism are typically recognized and diagnosed before a child is three years old. Autism also includes Autism Spectrum Disorders, Asperger's Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
If you have concerns about your child and his/her communication skills, you should seek medical advice from your pediatrician. Regression of skills (child was talking and then stopped or no longer makes eye contact) is a major red flag that requires immediate intervention. Some additional symptoms include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Not babbling by 12 months
- Not gesturing by 12 months
- Doesn't understand or follow directions
- Not using single words by 16 months
- Not using two-word phrases by 24 months
It is important to note that some children speak later than other children as the range of "normal" language development is different for every child. For example, boys may talk later than girls and may fall at the far end of the "normal" range of development. Some children will have delays in expressive language (verbal speech), but have no difficulty following directions (receptive language) and this is a good indicator that expressive language skills will improve. However, delays in both receptive and expressive language should be brought to the attention of your pediatrician.
Many people know the "common" types of characteristics associated with autism. However, not all of these characteristics are exhibited by all of those with autism.
- Rocking, hand flapping or other repetitive movements
- Problems in dealing with transitions from one activity to another
- No fear of real dangers or extreme fear of some things
- Crying a lot and very sensitive (or not sensitive at all) to some things in the environment
- Feeding difficulties relating to wanting to eat certain textures
- Problems with sleeping
- Choosing to play alone
- No pretend play
- Limited or no eye contact
- Flat affect (limited or no facial expressions)
A team approach is typically taken for children suspected of having autism. This team will include your doctor, a speech-language pathologist, a neurologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist (possibly), and a developmental specialist, as well as others. In some cases, SLP's are the first professional to identify characteristics of autism. A detailed case history must be completed with extensive parent input and a variety of assessments will be used to make the diagnosis. If you have concerns about your child, do not wait to seek help. Early intervention is key and the "wait and see" approach may cause you and your child to lose valuable time. Trust your instincts. Even if your child doesn't have autism, it is always to better to rule it out than to wait. In addition, you may find ways to help your child communicate better by consulting a professional.
If you are concerned about your child's communication skills, please contact us here to schedule a free consultation and screening.