Early signs of autism
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 44 children in the United States today. Some early signs of autism include:
- Avoiding eye contact with people
- Lack of interest in siblings or other children
- Limited language and verbal communication
The CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early” is a helpful tool for parents to track milestones and act early when there are missed milestones.
Autism screening at well-child visits
Diagnosing autism can be difficult since healthcare professionals rely on your child’s developmental history and behavior.
Screening is a process that is conducted during a visit with a pediatrician. Typically, your child will be screened during their 18 and 24-month visits. During this visit, your pediatrician may observe your child’s behaviors and response to a variety of stimuli. They’ll chat with you to see if your child has met certain milestones such as imitating facial expressions by nine months.
During the well-child visit screening, your healthcare physician may ask you questions such as:
- Do they avoid eye contact?
- How do they interact with people?
- Is their tone of voice “flat”?
- Do they respond to their name?
- Do they show sensitivity to light, noise, or temperature?
- Are there any unusual or repetitive behaviors they engage in such as banging their heads against the wall or flapping their arms?
- Do they dislike being held or cuddled?
- Do they struggle with minor changes in their routine?
- Do they engage in pretend play?
These questions help indicate whether your child is showing early signs of potential autism. Pediatricians may also ask about your family medical history.
Can my doctor diagnose my child with autism?
It is important to know that your doctor or pediatrician cannot formally diagnose your child with autism. If they think your child has autism, they will refer you to someone who is trained in diagnosing autism for a comprehensive evaluation. These could include:
- Developmental pediatrician
- Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)
- Occupational Therapists (OT)
- Child neurologist
Healthcare professionals have a range of autism assessment tools they use to help screen your child. Some tools they may use include:
- Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT): A 20-question test used for toddlers between 16 and 30 months old.
- The Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ): This looks at developmental challenges at specific ages.
- Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT): This has twelve activities where your child’s ability to play, communicate, and imitate is assessed.
- Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS): This is a parent interview where developmental delays are identified such as motor, language, and self-help skills.
Tips to prepare for the assessment
You will be a better advocate for your child if you are well-prepared for the assessment with the qualified autism specialist. To prepare for your appointment, you can:
- Put together a list of questions and concerns
- Take videos of your child when they are engaging in concerning behaviors
- Complete the M-CHAT and bring it to the appointment
- Track your child’s milestones by using the CDC “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” digital tracker
- Bring the completed questionnaire that was completed during your screening at the doctor or pediatrician’s office
- Check to see if you have insurance coverage
Formalized ASD assessment with the DSM-5
To be formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), your child needs to meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. With Autism Spectrum Disorder, your child must experience challenges with at least one of the two:
- Challenges with communication and social interactions: Children with autism may have difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation. They may have difficulty reading social cues and engaging in play with other children.
- Restricted and repetitive behavioral patterns: Children with autism may also engage in repetitive behaviors such as rocking their bodies or flapping their arms. They may have limited sensory processing to light, smells, and sounds.
You are your child’s best advocate. If you suspect they have autism, contact your pediatrician or doctor for a screening and referral. The earlier you can get a diagnosis, the sooner care can begin. This will ultimately help your child thrive and have a lasting impact on their future.
At Songbird, we believe that your child should come first. That’s why we always put together a care plan that fits your child’s unique needs. Instead of 18 months, the average time it usually takes a family to get you care, you’ll have someone in your home to start your child’s care plan in weeks. Ready to get started? Get in touch with us today.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Diagnostic Criteria. (June 29, 2020). CDC.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Screening and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder for Healthcare Providers. (February 11, 2020). CDC.
- First Steps. Autism Speaks.
- How is Autism Diagnosed: Screening & Diagnosis. Autism Speaks.
- Screening & Assessment. Autism Research Institute.
- Screening and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. (March 13, 2020). CDC.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism Disorder. (March 29, 2021). CDC.