Autism, according to the NHS Information Centre, is estimated to affect around 1% of the UK population. Often the first people to question if a child is on the autistic spectrum are the child’s parents or carers. This is because families often start to struggle with difficult behaviours a child may have at home, leading them to question whether their child may have autism. If you yourself have asked this question then please read on.
What are the symptoms of autism?
One of the difficulties with diagnosing Autism is that no individual symptom is a sign of autism, and no two children with autism have identical symptoms. There are however symptoms which you can look out for. If your child displays several of these symptoms then it would a good idea to consider an autism assessment.
1. Communication Difficulties
Children on the autistic spectrum almost always have challenges with speech and language. Some of these difficulties can, however, be hard to spot, as children with autism may use plenty of words. Here are some tips for determining if your child is having difficulties with their verbal communication:
- They use few or no spoken words by age two, nor do they use gestures, gibberish, or other means to communicate their needs or thoughts.
- They use only words they are repeating from television, movies, or other people, especially if they are not using the words to communicate meaning (for example, repeating a random phrase from a favourite TV show).
- Lack of eye contact, even when eye contact is requested.
- They are not hard of hearing but don’t respond when their name is called.
- Never initiating interactions or conversations with others.
- They do not go through the usual babbling or gibberish stages of speech.
- They develop spoken language at the usual time, but use words oddly, have an unusually flat voice, or misunderstand the intended meaning of words.
2. Unusual Physical Behaviours
Those with autism often have unusual physical behaviours, which set them apart from their peers. While none of these behaviours individually are a sign of autism, all of them can part of the package. Some unusual behaviour may include:
- Rock or flap often as a way to calm themselves;
- Over- or under-respond to sensory input, for example, pain.
- Have an unusual manner of walking, this may include toe walking or awkward movements;
- Are unusually picky eaters and may refuse foods with particular textures or strong flavours;
- Respond in age-inappropriate ways to unexpected changes in routine (angry melt-downs or extreme anxiety as a result of minor changes);
- Exhibit age-inappropriate behaviours or interests or have difficulty with developing age-appropriate abilities in toileting, dressing, etc.
3. Play Skills
Often children with autism will interact in unusual ways with objects, toys, and potential playmates. They are most likely to prefer their own company than the company of other children. If with other children they will often demand that playmates interact with them in certain predictable ways. Here are a few forms of play that are common among children with autism:
- Lining up objects or toys rather than using them in pretend or interactive play.
- Interacting in the same way with the same objects (toys, doors, containers, etc.) over and over again.
- Enacting the same scenes (often from TV) over and over again in exactly the same way.
- Engaging in “parallel play” (two children playing near one another but not interacting) long past the point when such play is developmentally typical.
- Ignoring or responding angrily to attempts to join them in their play or make changes to their play schemes.
- Having difficulty with age-appropriate forms of play such as rule-based games, pretend play, organized sports, or other activities that require social communication.
When to Seek an Evaluation
If you’ve read through this checklist and find that your child seems to exhibit some or many of these symptoms, now is the right time to seek an autism assessment. Formal autism diagnosis by an expert is important in enabling access to the right support, and an explanation for why certain things may be so difficult. You should seek a diagnosis from a professional as soon as possible if you are concerned that your son or daughter has autism.
Summerfield Healthcare can offer you a quick and convenient appointment with experienced Consultant Dr John Biddulph. As a specialist provider of autism and Asperger Syndrome diagnosis and assessment, Dr Biddulph can take away the stress of a long and frustrating wait normally associated with a referral to a specialist.