Posted on Apr 24, 2012 in Health & safety, Help & services, Parenting & pregnancy, School & education
I am worried that my son might possibly be autistic. What are the most common signs of autism in children? How do they test for it?
What are the signs of autism? That’s a question that’s as tough to answer as, “What does a snowflake look like?” Every case is different, and no two are the same.
Autism is a spectrum disorder (in fact, that’s what the common abbreviation ASD stands for), which means that people diagnosed with autism don’t fit neatly along a line from mild to severe. Each symptom comes in a variety of shades — like on the color spectrum above — and then are mixed and matched in a million different ways.
As of 2012, there is no blood test and no definitive genetic testing available. The autism diagnosis is currently made based on a child (or even adult) showing numerous specific behaviors from a list of characteristics common to people affected by the condition. Even then, there’s no foolproof method, as one child’s version of autism may be completely different to another’s.
In the case of my son (shown in this article), the three main indicators — after his notable lack of speech at 21 months — were that he liked to stack and line up toys, loved to spin around in circles, and never pointed. But then there are probably autistic kids who talk lots, don’t stack objects, don’t like to spin, and do point at things. To confuse the picture, my kiddo was great at making eye contact and loved to cuddle, which are often considered indicators of typical (non-autistic) development.
If you want to get an idea of whether or not your child’s at risk before getting an evaluation with a pediatrician or an appropriate specialist, here’s where you can start.
At Harvard Medical School, researchers have created a short and sweet web-based diagnostic tool to help screen and identify autism sooner than before. Lead researcher Dennis P Wall’s process asks parents to answer seven targeted questions and to record a video of the child, which is examined by an analyst. (Read about the Short Survey for Autism Diagnosis here.)
The major focus is on the following types of possibly autistic mannerisms:
Here is a more extensive list of some of the most common signs of autism — but remember: not every sign here means autism… and by the same token, just because your child does not exhibit certain characteristics listed here also does not guarantee that he or she is developing typically.
You might want to put a checkmark next to any of the signs that seem to apply to your child. This isn’t a score sheet, but if your child displays several of these traits, you should talk to your pediatrician. He or she might then give you a referral to a developmental psychological or other specialist. (Still other symptoms are more prevalent in kids with Asperger’s Syndrome, another condition on the autistic spectrum.)
Other atypical characteristics
To compare behaviors to the official system most professionals use, see the official American Psychiatric Association’s DSM IV-TR Diagnostic Criteria for Autistic Disorders here.
If you’re reading this because you have concerns about someone, we encourage you to keep two things in mind: First, don’t forget that these tests are not definitive. In just the same way that you would never be able to describe every one of your own behaviors, there’s no way for anyone create a completely thorough catalog of every autistic symptom.
Second, the main purpose of a diagnosis is to help a person with autism to receive the care and services he or she may need to life a full life… but a new label doesn’t change who that person is, was, or will be.
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