Autism is a developmental disorder that affects up to 1 in 100 children today. Experts believe that some children display the warning signs of autism as an infant. These symptoms usually increase with age, so for infants, the symptoms would be very mild and harder to distinguish. Other children with autism appear to develop normally for several months, then stop progressing or even regress in skills. Abnormalities are usually distinguishable as development starts to increase and the autistic child fails to progress.
Children with autism typically display social issues from an early age. Often these children prefer to be alone and play alone. Autistic children resist attempts at closeness and affection, such as cuddling, hugging and kissing. They do not engage in joint attention with others, such as pointing out things of interest or looking at what others look at. Eye contact with autistic children is usually infrequent and inconsistent. Even as babies, some autistic children appear deaf. They do not respond to their name or to attempts to make them listen. However, these same children hear and respond to other noises around them, such as music or tiny sounds.
Autistic children normally hate disturbances in routine, preferring consistency and sameness. This includes daily activities, order of events and even the route taken to a specific place.
Autistic children often play with toys inappropriately. Common examples include interest in only pieces of toys, such as spinning wheels of toys instead of making them drive or laying down to watch the spinning wheels. Autistic children often only play with one particular toy or certain types of toys due to restricted interests.
One of the most marked impairments of autistic children is language. Some autistic children don't talk until they are school-age. Others speak but only to repeat what they've heard. Speech patterns, tone and volume are other language problems associated with autism.
Sensory issues and autism go hand-in-hand. Sensory problems cause autistic children to have abnormal sensory responses to sound, touch, taste, smell and sight. Their nervous system fails to regulate the senses, confusing what to amplify and what to filter out. The sensory difficulties result in over- or under-sensitivity to sensory input. These sensory issues interfere with the child's ability to function daily.
Autistic children frequently have behavioral problems. Severe tantrums are very common, lasting well beyond the norm for their age. Responses to anger or frustration include screaming, self-injury, physical violence or disruptive behavior in general. Children with autism may be extremely hyperactive, without the ability to calm down. Other autistic children rarely move and refuse to participate in any activities. Self-stimulatory behaviors, or stimming, are common behaviors of autistic children. These include spinning and running in circles, as well as holding things in front of their eyes or staring at moving objects.
Report any suspicions of autism to the child's pediatrician and ask for a referral to a developmental pediatrician for evaluation. Developmental pediatricians specialize in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. Catching the warning signs of autism early and beginning treatment increase the prognosis for the child.