About the Author: Dr. Yost Abrams received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley and is a fellow with ZERO TO THREE. She is a parenting expert and early childhood researcher. Dr. Abrams specializes in parent-child attachment relationships, social-emotional development, and infant mental health.
When it comes to learning more about children’s development, knowing how autism appears in kids is paramount. Identifying potential signs or symptoms early can make a substantial difference for your child and how they interpret and explore their own worlds every single day. To start, we will explain a few of the more familiar signs of being on the spectrum.
Autism is still a very misunderstood condition—even today. But with 1 in 44 children identified as being on the spectrum, it affects about 1% of the world’s population in some capacity. While autism can manifest in many different ways, there are some common signs, such as:
If you suspect even mild signs of autism, do not ignore them. Sometimes, children who experience these signs go undiagnosed and do not receive the early intervention they need to thrive. For more information about this condition, we encourage you to read more about ASD on our site. You can consider a screening through the Jigsaw team, or you can contact us.
However, while parents can learn about and watch for the more notable signs of being on the spectrum, every child’s behaviors and needs will differ. In fact, some kids may experience lesser known symptoms of autism, and we feel it is crucial to shed light on some of these.
People commonly associate ASD with learning difficulties, but often, children with autism will not struggle with schoolwork, they will excel; 44% of children with ASD have an average or above average IQ. As parents, we want our kids to do well, so a fascination with a certain subject may fly under the radar.
In reality, however, if your child completely pours themselves into their schoolwork, they may not notice signals leading to burnout. By taking note of this now, you can begin providing your child with support, which will help them to balance everything in their life.
Children can experience other conditions alongside ASD. Epilepsy tends to be common; about a quarter of children with autism are also diagnosed with epilepsy within their lifetimes. Though epilepsy is not as common in younger kids, it is still worth noting that children may experience seizures as they age.
Additionally, remember that kids can experience different types of seizures, so pay careful attention; attacks can involve mild or full body spasms and/or brief staring spells. Consult with a medical professional before starting any type of seizure-specific treatment.
Similar to what we mentioned above, many children with autism will also live with mental health disorders. Anger, anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are just a few examples of fairly common co-occurring psychological conditions, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) being the most common to coexist with autism.
It’s important to understand that, while autism does not directly cause mental health disorders, it can impact children in ways that may negatively affect their mental health. For example, a child with autism may consistently feel anxious when navigating social interactions because they cannot read and understand social cues. By intervening early, you can ensure they receive access to therapies and interventions to best support their mental health.
Many children with ASD only cycle through certain phrases they learned, while some will experience delays in learning how to speak. Others will know how to speak and then lose their verbal skills.
Along with these groups, there are kids who have extreme difficulty speaking and may not be able to speak at all. This is known as nonverbal autism. Now, this does not necessarily mean that your child will never be able to talk or communicate; some children will acquire the ability to do so as they grow up, and one study confirms 47% of children acquired fluent speech after age four.
When it comes to determining whether to proceed with the autism diagnostic process, consider all the ways in which your child is trying to communicate with you. Often, therapy can help with improving spoken language, so monitor your child’s verbal skills closely.
Generally, children with autism prefer to be alone, and as such, it may come as a surprise that it can be tough for them to cultivate a sense of imagination. After all, many kids will amuse themselves during independent play by joining their imaginary friends.
You may notice that your child does not play pretend like their peers. If this is the case, provide them with support, whether this aid comes from their pediatrician or another licensed professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. A child’s imagination is vital to their development, as it bolsters creative, emotional, linguistic, physical, social, and problem-solving skills.
Children with autism may have trouble falling asleep or frequently wake up throughout the night. Their sleep troubles may be due to various reasons, such as a preoccupied mind, gastrointestinal issues, or medication side effects. Your child may even miss out on restful sleep for seemingly for no reason at all.
Regardless of the cause behind your child’s disturbed rest, lack of sleep can worsen other autism signs or symptoms. Additionally, given that you are likely up with your child at night, you are losing out on quality sleep as well. Fortunately, you can work with your child to execute strategies for tackling sleep challenges.
Typically, sensations such as bright lights, extreme temperatures, and loud noises cause kids to react, particularly those with autism. However, some children with ASD may not feel phased by intense–or even small–changes in their environment.
On the same hand, these kids may go out of their way to experience more of these sensations since they will barely notice them at first. For instance, a child living with autism may not feel fear, so they may not react when walking into a busy street. Partner with your child and a trusted medical professional to determine how you can effectively communicate potentially dangerous situations.
As you think about your child and the symptoms they may have, remind yourself that your concerns are valid. You are doing everything you can to care for them, and people will understand that you want to offer your child support while fully embracing who they are. You are taking steps to contribute to their happiness, healthiness, and bright future.