Did you know that one in 59 children will receive a diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? This complex developmental condition impacts kids’ ability to play, learn, communicate, and form social connections. Symptoms and severity can vary from person to person, and treatment often depends on where kids fall on the spectrum. Recognizing red flags can increase awareness and help parents seek professional guidance earlier. This way, kids receive an early diagnosis and intervention, so they reach their full potential.
You can’t always predict how children with ASD will grow and develop, but parents who know the signs can give their kids a better shot at a fulfilling, autonomous life. Here are eight things to know so your little ones turn out as happy and healthy as possible.
1. It’s Not Your Fault
Let’s clear one thing up right away. It’s not your fault if your child has ASD. Back in the 1940s, psychiatrists blamed the disorder on poor parenting or “refrigerator mothers,” whose cold, uncaring personas so traumatized their children that they retreated into autism. Scientists debunked this myth by the early 1970s and, from then on, parenting approaches were no longer the focus of ASD research.
While no one knows what causes autism, most experts agree it’s likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors, not bad parenting.
2. Signs Appear Gradually
Most parents don’t see signs of autism at birth or in infancy because they simply aren’t there. Rather, because ASD causes developmental disorders, you’ll often notice red flags as your child grows. Their symptoms will become more evident and obvious in the second and third years of life.
Regardless of when you observe unusual behavior, it’s best to see a specialist early on to confirm the condition and prescribe treatment.
3. Development Patterns Differ
It’s also important to remember that developmental patterns differ from child to child. For instance, one child might display early warning signs because they fail to reach developmental milestones like eye contact and social smiling. Others may achieve these specific behaviors and appear to be developing typically before slowing down and displaying atypical behaviors associated with ASD.
Still, others may regress and lose the skills and abilities they once had. Parents should keep an eye out for these patterns so they can detect symptoms ASAP.
4. Patients Face Invisible Challenges
Kids on the autism spectrum who can speak and display high IQs still face many challenges that others simply can’t see. Often, figurative and abstract language like metaphors and puns will confuse them. Jokes and teasing can quickly lead to bullying and social exclusion when they fail to “read between the lines.”
Because their social and language processing rate is slower, they may seem out of sync with their peers. Even as adults, some individuals with ASD will struggle to master these soft skills, regardless of how many hard skills they’ve developed.
5. Technology Can Aid Communication
If your little one is non-verbal, they may struggle to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs through spoken language. This can inhibit other skills like going to the bathroom, eating meals, and getting dressed. Luckily, assistive technologies can expand communication and promote independence for people with ASD.
For example, augmentative and alternative communication — or AAC — devices give children a voice and a means for nonverbal communication. These may include gestures, photo books, speech-generating devices, and other similar systems.
6. Special Interests Are Common
Does your child love firetrucks? Maybe they’re obsessed with bugs or a particular animal. Repetitive interests are often a warning sign of autism, regardless of the object of fascination. While the topic itself can vary widely between individuals, kids with this symptom may have extensive knowledge and talk about it often.
Understand that there’s nothing wrong with these special interests. If anything, it makes your little one unique and gives them something to chat about, which can ultimately build social skills.
7. Evidence-Based Treatments Do Exist
When intervention begins as early as possible, many children do improve with treatment. The most effective early intervention is comprehensive and seeks to improve cognitive, motor, social, communication, and behavior regulation skills. In turn, this can reduce symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and quality of life.
There are many types of treatment available, and many professionals use more than one approach. For instance, many therapists and child psychiatrists lump behavioral, developmental, and educational treatment together because many settings call for skills from all three categories. The most common therapy for those with ASD is speech and language therapy to aid in communication and improve the child’s understanding of language.
Learn the Signs and Act Early
With unique symptoms come unique needs, and early detection is key to fulfilling them. Parents should familiarize themselves with the signs of ASD so they know what to look for in their kids. If they detect it early enough, kids can receive the help they need to develop essential skills and reach their full potential.