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An Introduction to Autism

Any signs of autism a child may be exhibiting are reason enough to have him evaluated by a professional that specializes in the disorder. Autism can display several warning signs, with the earliest ones usually noted by the parents. Early diagnosis is essential in helping the child through treatment interventions and can have a huge impact on reducing symptoms, but initial signs are usually dismissed by parents and other caregivers. NIMH estimates that only 50 percent of children with the disorder are diagnosed before kindergarten.

Early warning signs of autism in children may be exhibited from birth, such as unresponsiveness, or a fixation on one item for very long periods of time. Other times, signs appear in children who had been developing normally. In many cases, children between the ages of 12 and 36 months start acting strangely and rejecting people, and appear to lose language and social skills they had already acquired. This can happen suddenly, or children may plateau, so their lack of progress becomes more apparent as their social and communication skills fall behind those of other children their age. For example, when an otherwise friendly and talkative toddler suddenly becomes withdrawn, silent, self-abusive, or indifferent, parents should have him evaluated. The severity of these symptoms ranges on the autism spectrum from mild - known as Asperger's syndrome, to severe - known as autistic disorder.

Children who are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum show developmental delays in social interactions and verbal and nonverbal communication, and also exhibit repetitive behaviors. How these symptoms present themselves differs in each child, but all of them fit into the overall symptoms of ASD. NIMH has provided a list of specific things to look for if parents suspect their child may be showing signs of ASD:

  • Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by the age of 1 year
  • Does not speak one word by the age of 16 months
  • Does not combine two words by the age of 2 years
  • Does not respond to name
  • Loses language or social skills
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Excessively lines up toys or other objects
  • Is attached to one particular toy or object
  • Does not smile
  • Appears to be hearing impaired at times


  • Next: Diagnosis >>
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