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Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Symptoms of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Does my child have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD, PDD)?

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Autism Facts, "a doctor should definitely and immediately evaluate a child for autism if he or she:

  • Does not babble or coo by 12 months of age
  • Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp, etc.) by 12 months of age
  • Does not say single words by 16 months of age
  • Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own (rather than just repeating what someone says to him or her) by 24 months of age
  • Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age.

Are there other possible symptoms of autism and PDD?

There are a number of things that parents, teachers, and others who care for children can look for to determine if a child needs to be evaluated for autism. 
The following “red flags” could be signs that a doctor should evaluate a child for autism or a related communication disorder.

  • The child does not respond to his/her name.
  • The child cannot explain what he/she wants.
  • Language skills or speech are delayed.
  • The child doesn’t follow directions.
  • At times, the child seems to be deaf.
  • The child seems to hear sometimes, but not others.
  • The child doesn’t point or wave bye-bye.
  • The child used to say a few words or babble, but now he/she doesn’t.
  • The child throws intense or violent tantrums.
  • The child has odd movement patterns.
  • The child is hyperactive, uncooperative, or oppositional.
  • The child doesn’t know how to play with toys.
  • The child doesn’t smile when smiled at.
  • The child has poor eye contact.
  • The child gets “stuck” on things over and over and can’t move on to other things.
  • The child seems to prefer to play alone.
  • The child gets things for him/herself only.
  • The child is very independent for his/her age.
  • The child does things “early” compared to other children.
  • The child seems to be in his/her “own world.”
  • The child seems to tune people out.
  • The child is not interested in other children.
  • The child walks on his/her toes.
  • The child shows unusual attachments to toys, objects, or schedules (i.e., always holding a string or having to put socks on before pants).
  • Child spends a lot of time lining things up or putting things in a certain order.

When should a doctor evaluate a child for autism?

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Doctors should do a “developmental screening” at every well-baby and well-child visit, through the preschool years. In this screening, the doctor asks questions related to normal development that allow him or her to measure a specific child’s development. These questions are often more specific versions of the "red flags" listed above, such as Does the child cuddle like other children? Or, Does the child direct your attention by holding up objects for you to see? The doctor will also ask if the child has any features that were listed earlier as definite signs for evaluation for autism.

If the doctor finds that a child either has definite signs of autism, or has a high number of red flags, he or she will send the child to a specialist in child development or another type of health care professional, so the child can be tested for autism. The specialist will rule out other disorders and use tests specific to autism. Then
he or she will decide whether a formal diagnosis of autism, autism spectrum disorder, or another disorder is appropriate.

When do children usually show signs of autism?

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In most cases, the symptoms of autism are measurable by certain screening tools at 18 months of age. However, parents and experts in autism treatment can usually detect symptoms before this time. In general, a formal diagnosis of autism can be made when a child is two, but is usually made when a child is between two and three, when
he or she has a noticeable delay in developing language skills. 

Recent studies show that at least 20 percent of children with autism experienced a “regression,” as reported by their parents.  This means that the children had a mostly normal development, but then had a
loss of social or communication skills. To date, however, there is little information about this type of regression, such as the age it seems to start, how severe it is, and what, if anything, triggers it. NICHD researchers are looking into a variety of possible causes for both early onset and regressive autism.

The information within quotation marks is reprinted from portions of Autism Facts by the United States National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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