What is Autism?

Autism refers to a broad range of conditions that are characterized by challenges with speech, social skills, repetitive behaviors, and nonverbal communication. These challenges often occur within the first three years of a life and cause children to fall farther and farther behind their peers as they grow older. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2018 an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States is affected by autism.

There are many different subtypes of autism, or the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are often tremendous differences in children with autism with learning, thinking, and problem-solving, which can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. This results in a distinct set of strengths and challenges for each child. For example, many children will have challenges with speech and communication, while others may be able to understand and easily express their needs through complex conversation. Some may reject all social contact, while others may be quite social. Some may exhibit repetitive actions or have complex and obsessive rules. Due to these differences, some children with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives while others will require minimal support to develop and live independently.


What are the Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Due to advancements in diagnostic tools, most children with ASD can be diagnosed by the age of 3, although some infants can show signs of ASD within their first 12 months. Often it will be the parents who will notice a difference in their child. There are many signs a parent can watch for that may indicate that their child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder.

Within the first 12 months:
  • Lack of back and forth sharing of sounds
  • No babbling
  • No pointing or other gestures such as pointing, showing or waving
  • Few or no big smiles or engaging expressions
  • Limited or no eye contact
  • Lack of response to their name
Within 16 months:
  • Very few to no single words
By 24 months:
  • No two-word spontaneous (not imitating or repeating) phrases
At Any Age:
  • Lack of interest in other children
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Lack of imitation
  • Loss of acquired language or social skills
  • Delayed language development
  • Not bringing objects over to parents to show them
  • Difficulty of understanding other people‚Äôs feelings
  • Repetitive behaviors (i.e. rocking, spinning, etc.)
  • Unusual reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors
  • Not using index finger to point

If your child exhibits these signs you should have your child screened for ASD. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) can help you determine if you should have a professional evaluation your child. This screening tool only takes a few minutes to complete. If the answers suggest that your child has a high probability for ASD, please consult with a professional.