Over the past year, the discussion on autism has tended to focus on its rapid increase in diagnoses, with the popular statistic of 1 in every 68 children being diagnosed with autism recently receiving an update, going up to 1 in 42 boys. While many experts have been quick to point out that this increase is more a reflection of our enhanced abilities to diagnose than it is about an actual increase in the number of cases, there is one point that everyone can agree on: the earlier the diagnosis, the better.
By diagnosing autism in a child as early as possible—with somewhere between one and three years of age being the ideal time of diagnosis—parents can work with a number of doctors and experts to develop an intervention method that can help improve the development of language, manage behavior better, and dealing with social interactions, amongst other crucial skills.
But while early diagnosis is championed by pretty much every autism expert, what can an average parent do to stay vigilant and keep an eye out for the early signs of autism? While all children develop at their own pace and the symptoms of autism can become noticeable later in some—especially young girls—below are five types of behavior that can indicate a possible future diagnosis.
- Not responding when their name is called: Developing infants will typically respond to their own name or turn their attention to someone speaking to them. However, babies later diagnosed with autism often don’t react to hearing their first name called, behavior that many parents have traditionally categorized as a hearing problem.
- Not engaging in “joint attention”: Joint attention refers to an action when a child joins with another person to look at the same object or watch the same activity. Typical babies will shift their gaze from people to objects while a child with autism often will not look in the direction pointed to by someone.
- Not imitating others: Just as typical babies will normally turn in the direction of someone speaking to them, they will also tend to mimic others, whether through facial movements, sound, or waving. However, babies that are later diagnosed with autism tend not to mimic other babies nor imitate using objects.
- Not responding emotionally: As we all know, lacking emotional intelligence is a major symptom of autism. While we might not think of babies as having emotional intelligence, typical babies are usually responsive to one another, whereas a baby with autism is often emotionally unresponsive.
- Not engaging in pretend play: “Pretend play” is highly common amongst children, where they will go off and imitate their parents or an animal, an ability that usually develops at the end of a child’s second year. In contrast, an ability to pretend play is absent in children with autism under the ago of two.
While one or two of these behaviors might not conclusively point to autism, even exhibiting one of the above behaviors warrants a visit to a professional. After all, one of the best things you can do for a child with autism is to identify their condition as early as possible, something made easier by looking out for the above five signs.