Does My Child Have Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Updated December 12, 2018
Reviewer Laura Angers
Have you started to notice that your child is a little bit behind their peers in developmental skills? Have you noticed that your child seems to shy away from interactions with others? These could be symptoms of autism spectrum disorder,and they may make you wonder if your child is just a little behind or if they are struggling with autism. By understanding more about autism and what it means you'll be able to understand if your child has it and what it means if they do.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder because some children are affected more than others. Some have lower level symptoms while others have very severe symptoms. Each of these is still considered autism, however, because they still have the same types of symptoms. Autism is a mental health condition that affects communication as well as relationship building, language skills, and understanding of abstract concepts. But we'll take a closer look at autism symptoms in the next section.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
There are four different types of symptoms when it comes to autism. Children may experience social difficulties, communication difficulties, repetitive behaviors and physical or medical problems. Each of these can occur in different ways and different combinations. Usually, a child will have some form of each of these to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, but it's possible that you won't recognize all of the symptoms yourself right away. If you speak with your child's doctor, however, you should be able to find out more about what they are experiencing.
Social difficulties may include symptoms like:
- Failing to respond to their name by eight months
- Disinterest in people
- Difficulty playing games with others
- Don't imitate things they see others do
- Don't seek comfort from parents
- Prefer playing alone
- Difficulty understanding social cues
- Difficulty understanding someone else's thoughts or actions
- Difficulty predicting the actions of another
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- May engage in self-injurious behavior
Communication difficulties include symptoms like:
- Delayed babbling, speaking or hand gestures
- Difficulty combining words into sentences
- Difficulty sustaining a conversation
- May have extended monologues on one subject
- Difficulty understanding expressions that aren't literal
- Facial movements and tone do not reflect what is being said
- Do not understand body language from others
Repetitive behaviors include symptoms like:
- Flapping hands
- Rearranging objects
- Repeating sounds, words or phrases
- May engage in self-stimulating behavior
- Demand extreme levels of consistency
- Changes to routine can cause stress
- Intense obsession or preoccupation
Physical and medical conditions can include symptoms like:
- Sleep problems
- Sensory processing problems
- Seizure disorders
- Pica or eating things that aren't food
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Immune dysfunction
- GI disorders
Any of these types of behaviors could be a sign of autism, but your doctor is the only one who can help you understand if your child does have autism.
Should I Seek Help?
Everywhere you look there are guidelines for what developmental milestones your child should reach and at approximately what time. Some children achieve these milestones a little earlier, and some achieve them a little later, but a significant delay could be a reason to at least speak with your doctor. Significant changes in your child's behavior or symptoms like those that we have discussed above are also a reason to speak with your doctor. The important thing is getting a diagnosis as quickly as possible, so you know what to do for your child.
If you're concerned about behaviors that your child is (or isn't) engaging in it's good to at least bring your doctor into the conversation. They will be able to help you understand what's going on. Your child may be a little developmentally delayed but not have autism, or your child may be entirely within the range that's suggested for a specific activity. It's possible that they do not have autism but do have a different developmental disorder or problem. By talking with your doctor about the symptoms and your concerns, you'll be able to start the treatment process faster.
Research has shown that the faster a child receives a diagnosis and treatment specifically for autism spectrum disorder the more they are capable of doing. These children will be better prepared for the future because they get the support that they need at an early age. This is one reason to keep track of any strange or suspicious behaviors or any delays that you notice with your child and bring them to the doctor's attention immediately. Even if it turns out to be nothing to worry about you will always know that you're doing everything possible to help your child.
Treatment For Autism
There is no true cure for autism at this time, but there are ways that we can treat it and help children (and adults) who suffer from it. The most important aspect of autism treatment is called an intervention, and it's extremely personalized to your specific child. In general, intervention is about helping your child to learn the skills that they otherwise struggle with. It's also related to medications for symptoms that may occur or for medical conditions that your child may experience alongside the autism itself. There is no medication simply for autism.
Behavioral intervention focuses on things like language, social skills, learning skills and more. A child that struggles with these areas may not do well in school on their own, but by getting the targeted therapy, they may be able to attend school or may at least learn how to communicate on their own. The earlier professional help is given in these areas; the more likely your child will be able to advance in them. Applied behavior analysis and early start programs can help your child to develop these skills at a higher level. They do require a great deal of structure, and the parent is responsible for some aspects of working with the child as well
Medications can be used to treat some of the symptoms that go along with autism in some children. For example, a child who also suffers from seizures may be prescribed medication. Those with OCD, anxiety, depression, ADHD or sleep problems may also be prescribed medication. These medications are only intended to treat specific aspects of the condition and do not treat the autism itself. Instead, behavioral therapy is used to help the child with their autism and help them live a more normal life.
The parent and other family members are also responsible for helping the environment and therefore the child. A child with autism will need consistency more than most and will also need specific intervention at different times of the day and night to react to different behaviors. Therapists and professionals will generally work with you to help you understand how to react to different situations and how to encourage your child to improve. It does take a lot of hard work, and the entire family will need to be supportive of the treatment that your child receives for it to be a success.
Getting Help For Your Family
If your child has autism, they are not the only one that needs help. Working with a child with autism is an extremely difficult task for your entire family to take on. Whether your child has a more mild form of the disorder or a severe one, it's going to take a lot for the family to help them overcome the limitations that the disorder puts on them. That means you and the rest of your family should also be seeking help. A mental health professional can help you to understand your own needs better while you're helping your child.
If you have other children, it's even more important to get mental health treatment for them and yourself. A professional can help you better understand what it is that each of your children needs from you and can help the child understand what it's like to grow up with an autistic sibling. It's crucial that each of your children has a way to express themselves and that they each feel that they are being taken care of and treated properly. Creating a rift between yourself and your children or even between your autistic child and their siblings is not something you want.
Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to get out of the house for a therapy appointment. Children (even those without autism) don't like to cooperate all the time and sometimes you'll have a sick child that prevents you from taking the other children. That's where BetterHelp and other online therapy programs can help you. This system lets you log on from anywhere that you have an internet connection. Then you can connect with a therapist and have a session right from your own home. It makes things a whole lot easier, and it keeps you right where you need to be, keeping an eye on all of your children.