For the purposes of this essay, we’re going to be talking about young children, age 5 and under. Perhaps your child isn’t talking yet, or lost some speech, or is just a bit quirky and you’re wondering what to do. I have been asked this several times by friends and via email.
First, here is a list. It is by no means an end-all, be-all as far as determining if a child has autism. It’s just a guideline, a checklist. I am not a medical professional, but this is a compilation of skills from several reputable sources. If you child checks all of the boxes, I certainly would pursue it further. And by all means, even if your child checks none of the boxes, if, as a mom, something doesn’t feel quite right, have them checked out by a professional. If you want a second opinion, get one. I know of a family, their child at age 2 still was not sitting up on their own, and their pediatrician kept saying “No worries, he’ll catch up.” As it turns out, that child does have a chromosome disorder and missed years of valuable therapy. Go with your gut, Mom!
List of autism red flags:
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter
- No babbling by 12 months
- No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- Any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age
- Lack of appropriate eye gaze
- Lack of warm, joyful expressions
- Lack of sharing interest or enjoyment
- Lack of coordination of nonverbal communication
- Unusual prosody (little variation in pitch, odd intonation, irregular rhythm,
unusual voice quality)
- Repetitive movements with objects
- Repetitive movements or posturing of body, arms, hands, or fingers
- The child does not respond to his/her name.
- The child cannot explain what he/she wants.
- The child doesn’t follow directions.
- At times, the child seems to be deaf.
- The child seems to hear sometimes, but not others.
- The child doesn’t point or wave bye-bye.
- The child used to say a few words or babble, but now he/she doesn’t.
- The child throws intense or violent tantrums.
- The child has odd movement patterns.
- The child is hyperactive, uncooperative, or oppositional.
- The child doesn’t know how to play with toys.
- The child gets “stuck” on things over and over and can’t move on to other things.
- The child seems to prefer to play alone.
- The child gets things for him/herself only.
- The child is very independent for his/her age.
- The child does things “early” compared to other children.
- The child seems to be in his/her “own world.”
- The child seems to tune people out.
- The child is not interested in other children.
- The child walks on his/her toes.
- The child shows unusual attachments to toys, objects, or schedules (i.e., always holding a string or having to put socks on before pants.)
- Child spends a lot of time lining things up or putting things in a certain order.
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter.
What to do if you suspect your child has autism:
- Visit your pediatrician. Ask for a referral to a developmental pediatrician. *Do not delay in doing this. Believe me, I know how hard it is to make those calls and find a truth you don’t want to know. But wait lists for developmental pediatricians can be 6-18 months! You cannot waffle on this, then decide to call after 6 months of waffling, and be put on a 12-month wait list. Time is of the essence, as they say. There are only a few specialties that can diagnosis autism, some being developmental peds and neurologists.
If the child is over 3, find out how to contact your school district and inquire about an early screening program.
If the child is under 3, ask your pediatrician about what is available in your area as far as “Early Intervention” programs.
If your pediatrician or school district is unable or unwilling to help you, don’t stop. Call or research the closest children’s hospital. Ask. Share. Look for local support groups or special needs schools and ask them for help.
If you have any other questions or need more information, leave a comment here. We have lots of great parents/readers on here who I am sure have many, many nuggets of wisdom.