Q: What signs can I look for in my child if I suspect she has autism?
A: Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorders are usually present before 3 years of age. The pattern and severity of symptoms are variable but always include persistent deficits in social communication and unusual habits, behaviors, or interests. In children with ASD, there is a lack of social reciprocity—they have difficulty initiating or maintaining social interaction. Language may appear as babbling or as repetition of what was just said. As language emerges, children with ASD may use the grammatical third person or use their own name (“Cooper want a drink”). Unusual habits may include poor eye contact, lack of facial expressions, lack of interest in playing with others, lack of recognition of other’s personal space, aggressive behaviors, repetitive movements (hand flapping, jumping, pacing), limited toy /object use (lining or stacking, pattern of shape or color), or abnormal fixation on a topic or object. Behaviorally, children with ASD are frequently inflexible with strict adherence to routines and may be difficult to console, with extreme distress if the anticipated routine is changed. In addition, environmental sensory stimuli may lead to aversions or excessive interests [limiting food preference, covering ears to certain sounds, refusal to touch certain textures, smells people or objects].
Regina A. Gargus, M.D., FAAP
Siskin Center for Developmental Pediatrics
1101 Carter Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402