Very early on, it will be difficult for a parent to know if their child will develop autism or any one of the disorders on the spectrum. As the child nears their second birthday, it will become more apparent that something is out of the ordinary. In this case, the child shouldn’t be thought of as something less, but rather something extraordinary.
The severity of autism will be most noticeable in children who cried a lot as infants when they were held or seemed irritated by certain textures in their newborn/ infant clothes, blankets and bed sheets. If there were already certain blankets or toys they found particularly soothing and parents couldn’t get any rest without those toys or blankets, that may also be an early warning sign. These infants may have shunned parental contact, but were only content in a swing or bouncy seat. Movement pleases them, and repetitive movement quiets them.
As they grow, milestones will be missed by more than a month or two. They may not crawl or turn from back to belly and back again when they’re expected. They may pull to a standing position but not learn to walk on their own for more than six months. Repetitive interaction with adults does not yield any early vocals. They may not smile or even make eye contact with adults either, which could occur as early as six months.
On the flip side they may be intensely curious and willing to explore everything. They may catch on to intellectual tasks or learning more advanced pre-K things, like reading much earlier than their peers. Their receptive language and intuitiveness is keen beyond their years.
Of course a lot of the opposite is also true. Although children with autism never outgrow the disorder, their behavior and interactions with others can and does change. Involved parents and teachers can help the early child with autism learn what danger is, since they have no cognitive understanding of it at all. They can start at age 3 with learning proper social interactions, that otherwise would completely elude them the rest of their lives.
Socially, the major determining factor is the ability for these children to watch for and understand social cues, like facial expressions. These facial expressions are often missed because a child with autism avoids looking at the human face. Other social cues such as tone of voice, body language, and direct contact, are also missed because of the child’s autism. All of these have to be taught, and taught consistently, because it has to be concrete in the child’s mind before they can see it in others. Social skills are typically taken for granted as most children watch what their parents say and do, and mimic it in their own lives. Autistic children do not.
A major occurring feature between autism and the autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s, is that none of these early warning signs will be present. It’s not until the child is much older, speaks, and starts to show obsessive behaviors that Asperger’s will be detected. So even if your child looks like he or she is out of the woods for autism, you must still consider the possibility at a later date that something’s amiss when your child doesn’t behave as his peers do.
Early warning signs of autism can be misinterpreted, so it is vital that you make your healthy baby checkups regularly. If you suspect anything and your pediatrician does not, you may get a referral for a second opinion. A specialist in diagnosing early childhood disorders will know right away whether or not there’s a real issue with your child.