Over the last few years, researchers have worked on identifying signs of autism in toddlers. Getting an early diagnosis of such a mental condition may be essential to minimise its effects in adulthood.
We've all heard about autism, but a lot of people have a vague idea of what it is, how to recognise and deal with it. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can be present from early childhood, and it is characterised by social isolation and difficulties in communicating with other people in a verbal and non-verbal way, among other problems.
According to statistics, this mental disorder affects 5 in every 10.000 people around the world, though keep in mind that the autism spectrum ranges from mild to severe conditions. As a result, every case is unique.
Why is it important to recognise signs of autism in toddlers?
It's hard to predict how autism is going to affect your child over the years, because it depends on so many factors. However, those people who are able to recognise signs of autism in toddlers may prevent the symptoms from worsening by taking action. Indeed, studies have proven that the prognosis is worse for those kids with low intelligence quotient (IQ), especially if they aren't able to speak by the age of five.
What are the signs of autism in toddlers?
The signs of autism in children vary depending on age, therefore be on the lookout for the following symptoms in:
- Babies: some babies start showing signs of autism as early as 3 months old. These include not responding to loud noises, not following objects with their eyes and not being able to hold objects. Also, you can become suspicious if your little one doesn't smile at people, shows no interest in new faces, and doesn't babble at all. In addition, before he reaches his first year of life, your munchkin should be able to turn his head to figure out where sounds come from, and should show affection for you, among other skills. Not having them is a red flag.
- Toddlers: after their first birthday, there are new signs of autism to look for, such as not being able to crawl, standing on their feet while being supported, saying single words, using basic gestures like waving their heads and pointing to objects. As they get older, for example at 24 months, toddlers with autism may not respond when called by their names, have trouble learning how to walk and, also, they are usually incapable of using two-word sentences. Besides, you can expect them to line up their toys and other objects compulsively, not being able to use them for what they are made. Lacking visual contact, bonding and smiling are other causes of concern.
- Children: Later on, there are certain behaviours in children that can help diagnose autism. For instance, they are not interested in making friends or they can't even start and keep a conversation. Autistic kids set their own routines and get very anxious when something or somebody interferes them. They generally lack creativity, have repetitive patterns and get really attached to specific objects.
What can I do if I detect signs of autism in toddlers?
If you suspect that your son or daughter may be autistic, you should take him to the doctor. The paediatrician will gather as much information as possible about your toddler's development, and he or she will count on other specialists, like psychologists, psychiatrists and speech therapists, to confirm the diagnosis. Once autism is detected, there are different behavioural plans to treat it, such as:
- Conductive education: it's a learning process based on shaping behaviour through using reinforcement. Parents need to be trained, so that they know how to limit undesired behaviours and reward desired ones.
- Special education programmes: they are aimed at helping autistic children develop verbal and non-verbal communication in order to interact with other people.
When kids don't respond to such special plans and they have aggressive or self-injurious behaviour, they could be treated with medication. The doctor may prescribe them antipsychotic drugs to prevent them from getting harmed or hurting somebody.
If all goes well, you shouldn't have problems to detect signs of autism in toddlers, above all when it's a severe case. Of course, we all want our kids to be healthy, but there are parents who are in denial and rebel against the idea of their children suffering from such a condition. Accepting it is the first step to help an autistic toddler, who will need extra support and care to reach development milestones that, under normal circumstances, he would definitely achieve on his own.