How Do I Know If My Child Has Autism?

There are several different behavioral and developmental abnormalities, as well as intellectual disabilities, which may beset a young child. When it comes to autism, there are a very particular set of traits which parents ought to look for in a child they suspect may be afflicted with the developmental disorder.  

One of the most distinctive symptoms of autism in a young child is difficulty with, and indifference to, communication with others. The child may not simply be a late talker, but may exhibit a profound difference to his or her parents. This may vary in its degree of severity. On the extreme end of the spectrum are children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, who either never learn to speak at all, or who at least have deficiencies sufficiently severe that they might never learn to speak apart from intensive clinical intervention.  

Some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may initially seem to develop speech, but their progress will suddenly halt or even revert to original speechlessness altogether. Parents may be concerned that the child has experienced an organic brain injury, but it must be kept in mind that the child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have given up attempting to learn to communicate because of its perceived difficulty. While children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may nonetheless develop speech, it is usually quite simple and basic, and used for expressing basic needs rather than for specifically social reasons. One of the most common communicative idiosyncrasies of the child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is that of echolalia. In this case, the child may imitate the speech of others without actually understanding what they are saying. 

Claire LaZebnik, co-author of Overcoming Autism, notes in her book that there are quite extreme instances of this in which the child will sing entire songs or recite lines from movies without understanding the meaning of the phrases. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder oftentimes compensate for this difficulty in verbal communication by engaging in what is known as "leading." This involves taking the parent by the hand and directing them manually to what it is that they desire or are referring to. 

One of the more disturbing hallmarks of childhood autism is the tendency of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to have violent tantrums. This may involve dangerous instances of self-injury or attacking other people, even family members. This can produce an immeasurable amount of stress for the parents of the child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as the child may endanger his own safety and the safety of others. In such cases, an enormous amount of analysis may be required of the parents and clinicians, in order to understand what sorts of things trigger these outbursts, and what signs may precede them.

Finally, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may engage in stereotyped or repetitive behaviors. This may include rocking back and forth, waving fingers, tapping objects or flapping one's arms. It is unclear why children with autism do this. Some theorize that children with Autism Spectrum disorder do this because all children need a certain level of stimulation, and when they fail to acquire a normal amount through playing and interacting with other children (as is typically the case when it comes to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder), they resort to atypical means of stimulating themselves. Others believe that parts of the brain implicated in self-injury and OCD are malfunctioning. Still others suggest that the child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may be attempting to reduce sensory overload.

To be sure, ordinary children may engage in behaviors similar to the ones listed here, but children with Autism Spectrum Disorder engage in them to an unusually intense degree. It is essential that the parents monitor the child's behavior to determine whether the child is simply "being a kid," or whether or not he or she may benefit from clinical intervention.    

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