How can parents identify whether or not their child has autism?
Autism can be diagnosed in a child at the early age of 2 years or less. During this time period, the toddler is generally at home and the parents are responsible for keeping a watchful eye on their child and looking for any symptoms of a possible autism disorder.
Children may have autism if they:
- Have impaired communication skills, verbal or non-verbal
- Have difficulty forming and maintaining social relationships and are unable to start any social communication or social behavior
- Get irritated and agitated easily
- Show resistance to change in their surroundings.
- Get upset easily if they don’t get a desired food, fragrance, or sound
- Avoid eye contact and show repetitive actions, including flapping hands and rocking their bodies.
- Show a stereotypical pattern of behavior and interest
- Have deviant patterns of speech
- Lack social skills or face challenges in sharing their affection and emotions with others
- Engage in aggression or self-injurious behaviors
Parents who are unaware of these early signs of autism may not notice them. Often, parents may realize when the child reaches an age where he or she should start talking, but instead, the child’s development seems slower than expected.
How can parents get their children tested for autism?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children receive routine developmental screenings, as well as specific screenings for autism at 9, 18, and 30 months of age.
Here are few ways to test children for autism:
1. Initial screening from a child’s pediatrician
If parents suspect their child may have developmental delays or any signs of autism, they should schedule an appointment with their pediatrician right away.
The pediatrician will observe:
- How a child laughs
- How a child makes eye contact
- How a child points or waves
- How a child tries to get attention during the conversation
- How a child cries during the appointment
- How a child is meeting all developmental milestones
2. An autism screening
There are many specialized screening tools to help identify children with autism. Most of these screening tools are yes-or-no questions or a checklist of symptoms. A pediatrician should also get feedback from parents on their child’s behavior.
The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers Revised (M-CHAT-R) is a screening test with 20 questions about a child’s behavior. The test is intended for children aged 16 and 30 months. The results will let parents know if further evaluation may be needed.
If a physician believes a child may have autism, a physician may also recommend genetic testing to rule out any other conditions that could cause similar symptoms.
- Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2): The ADOS test includes different modules that can accommodate children of various ages, evaluating social skills and repetitive behavior.
- Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS): The CSBS test measures language skills and communicative behaviors for toddlers and young children.
For an official autism spectrum diagnosis, a child must meet the standards of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), issued by the American Psychiatric Association. The categories include:
- Issues with communication and social interaction: Children with autism may find it difficult to read social cues, make eye contact, or engage in conversation.
- Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior: Such as saying repeated words or rocking their bodies.
Parents can also opt for ‘Online Self-Assessments’ to assess whether their child has common autism symptoms.
As a parent, it will be difficult to learn that a child shows signs of autism. The uncertainty and the worry about what awaits may be stressful and frightening. Parents may face an influx of ideas and advice, which can be conflicting and overwhelming. Even if a child has been diagnosed with autism, know that you are not alone — according to a 2021 CDC report, every one out of four children has been found to have autism.
There are many treatments and strategies that can help a child overcome developmental challenges and develop new skills. Some behavior therapies can be taught at home, along with some assistance, to cater to the special needs of a child so that a child can explore new skills, grow, and learn in their own environment.
Help a child
The most important step is to be aware of autism, get a diagnosis early, and seek therapy.
Always try to create an environment that is consistent. Children with autism face challenges in generalizing their acquired skills from one place to another. For example, if they have been taught some nonverbal communication techniques at school or by a therapist, parents should create a similar environment so a child can practice at home.
Have a fixed schedule
Children with autism may show a lot of resistance to new surroundings and situations. Parents should try to minimize any sort of disturbances in their regular plans. Maintain a fixed and regular routine for all; work, play, school, activities, etc. If there are uncertain or unavoidable changes in the routine, talk to a child about them in advance to help them best prepare.
Positive reinforcement can be beneficial for a child’s development. Whenever a child picks up a new desired behavior, parents should specifically praise a behavior or give them a meal or toy. This will act as a reinforcer and help a child maintain the behavior.
Consider creating a space in a home that is a child's personal space so that they can relax, feel safe, and enjoy their time. To help relaxation, parents can provide some visual cues they enjoy like paintings, decorating the walls with colors and patterns, etc. Be sure to carefully consider the objects in the space and watch their behavior to avoid any self-harm.
Use nonverbal cues
Observe a child’s nonverbal cues with specific attention to the expressions and gestures they use. Use these nonverbal cues that are familiar to a child when communicating with them.
Identify the trigger behind the tantrum
Children with autism may have a difficult time sharing emotions and experiences. This difficulty can create situations where they are misunderstood which causes the child to become even more upset. Pay attention to any nonverbal cues they may have which could point to the root of the issue. Throwing tantrums is typically a way to express emotion and grab attention. Parents should try to find the underlying cause and address the real issue.
Make time for playtime
Living with autism is not easy for the child or the parent. Between the therapies and appointments, it is important to make time for play that is simply fun. Remember things can make a child smile and look for new ways parents and children can have fun together. Playtime can be its own type of therapy without the aid of professional therapy techniques.
Be aware of the sensory environment
Children with autism can be hypersensitive to sound, taste, touch, smell, and light. Try to understand which sensations are disturbing and bring out tantrums. Once triggers are identified, try to modify any such stimuli to create an atmosphere where the child feels safe, secure, and happy.
If parents are worried about getting a child tested for autism, they should first conduct an initial screening with a child’s pediatrician to get expert advice. Next, they should do some basic assessments as well as a professional assessment to verify that a child has autism.
If a child has been diagnosed with autism, just remember that each child has a different situation which requires a different plan based on the child's strengths and weaknesses, likes, and dislikes.
Parents should create an environment that helps a child feel calm and happy. Identify the areas where the child needs assistance and help them develop their skills so they can live an independent life.
Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.