Autism Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term for a wide spectrum of disorders that affect social skills, communication, and repetitive or obsessive traits. It can be mild or very severe. Some of the disorders under the autism umbrella are Asperger's syndrome, pervasive development disorder and Rett syndrome. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 2007 autism prevalence report, one in 150 American children has autism. There is no cure for autism, but it is treatable. Early diagnosis and intervention can have a significant, positive effect on autistic children. This is why it is so important to recognize the signs of autism during the toddler years.
Some early signs of autism are an infant who does not respond to his name, does not smile in response to smiling at him, or has poor eye contact. Other signs are infants who are not comforted by cuddling and do not gesture or attempt to communicate.
A delay in spoken language is one of the most important signs of autism. Children who do not babble or gesture by 12 months and do not have any words in their vocabulary by 16 months are showing signs of autism. Autistic children may also repeat the same phrases over and over again.
Lack of social skills and little or no interest in interacting with others are signs of autism. Autistic children do not "pretend" play. This means they do not imitate or play make-believe, i.e. pretending to talk on the phone. These children may have unusual comfort objects, not dolls or blankets.
Repetitive and Obsessive Traits
Repetitive motions are another sign of autism. Autistic children may repeatedly flap their hands or twirl things. They may also become fixated on one object and have a hard time transitioning to something else when playing.
What To Do
If you suspect your toddler may have autism, talk to your doctor about referring you to a specialist or your local intervention agency. If your child is over 3 years of age, your local public school can help, too.