Autism In Children: Catching The Early Signs & Handling Them

by Dr. Jonathan D'Souza

It can be difficult to detect autism in children as its symptoms can be similar to other mental or behavioral disorders. Spotting the early signs of autism is essential for parents, so that therapy can be started immediately. As you know your child better than your pediatrician, do not disregard your own experience and observation as your doctor might not be able to gauge everything in a 15-minute visit.

On World Autism Awareness Day, we take a look at some signs that might be helpful in spotting the disease early .

Early Signs That Point To Autism

  1. Social Limitations
    Infants usually respond to voice, grasp a finger, gaze at faces and smile by four to six months of age. Children with autism find it difficult to have day-to-day human interactions. For autistic toddlers, it’s tough to play social games. They are loners and do not respond to their parent’s reactions of anger or affection.
  2. Communication Difficulties
    Most toddlers start babbling, point to objects they want, respond to voices and make faces when they are displeased, by their first birthday. In contrast, autistic children struggle in learning and combining words. They may utter a single word or phrase repeatedly or repeat what they hear (echolalia). They fail to express themselves through facial gestures and body movements. Some would speak with a deep voice or sing a high-pitched song suddenly.
  3. Repetitiveness
    Autistic children love to follow a routine which may include arranging and rearranging objects, rocking back and forth, hand-flapping and repeating words, phrases or sounds. Self-stimulating repetitive behavior such as wiggling fingers in front of their eyes is another symptom. A slight disturbance in their daily routine leads to sudden outbursts and inappropriate behavior.

Dealing With Autism
When you notice these signs in your child, consult a doctor and get it confirmed. While it might be earth-shattering for you, don’t panic and lose hope. Don’t forget that your child looks up to you for help and it is your unconditional love that will help him the most. Here’s what you can do when you learn that your child has autism.

  • Learn About Autism
    The more you know about the condition, the better equipped you are at making informed decisions. Learn about treatment options, ask questions and inquire about new therapies.
  • Understand Your Child Better
    Understand what makes your child stressful and uncomfortable and what calms him down.
  • Accept Your Child
    Do not focus on how your kid is different from other children. Celebrate small successes and enjoy his quirks.
  • Don’t Give Up
    You cannot predict the course that autism might take. Don’t give up and worry about what life has in store for your child. Some of the greatest minds in history have had autism.

Treating The Condition
Early intervention can help children from birth to three years of age learn important skills. Treatment can be broken down into four categories.

1. Diet Management
Many biomedical interventions require a diet change and removal (or inclusion) of certain foods from a child’s diet. Mineral or vitamin supplements can also be given. Consult a doctor to ensure that your child is getting important vitamins and minerals.

2. Medication
Certain medicines help children deal with autism and assist in managing high energy levels, improve focus and provide relief from depression.

3. Communication & Behavioral Approaches

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
    In this treatment, lessons are broken down into simple parts for children and positive reinforcement is used to reward correct answers and behaviors.
  • Treatment & Education Of Autistic & Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH)
    This system uses visual cues to teach skills. Picture cards are used to show a child how to get dressed by breaking down information to small steps.
  • Occupational Therapy
    This therapy helps kids live independently by focusing on their eating, bathing, dressing and other habits.
  • Speech Therapy
    This therapy helps in enhancing their verbal communication skills.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
    Children are taught to use picture symbols to ask, answer questions and communicate in this therapy.
  • Sensory Integration Therapy
    This treatment is beneficial in children who are disturbed by certain sounds, smell or do not like being touched.

4. Complementary & Alternative Treatments
Some parents and healthcare professionals also suggest the use of chelation therapy (removal of heavy metals like lead from the body), special diets, biologicals (such as the usage of the hormone secretin) or body-based systems (such as deep pressure) and other alternative treatments. (1) Always consult your doctor before starting any such treatment.

1. Gupta, Vidya Bhushan. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. New York Medical College and Columbia University, 2004. Pediatric Habilitation, volume 12.
2. Handleman, J.S., Harris, S., eds. Preschool Education Programs for Children with Autism (2nd ed). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. 2000.
3. National Research Council. Educating Children with Autism. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

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