Noticing These Signs In Your Toddler? Could It Be Autism?

Understanding early symptoms and when to seek help

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 59 children is diagnosed with autism. But many parents are surprised to learn that signs and symptoms often begin to surface before a child’s second birthday.

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“For some kids, we see symptoms in infancy — even before they’re a year old,” says pediatric behavioral health specialist Veena Ahuja, MD. “For most kids, somewhere between 12 and 24 months is where we really start to see symptoms because they’re not engaging in talking and imitating adults like other kids are.” 

What early signs of autism should parents look for?

There are certain behaviors linked to autism that parents of very young children should be aware of, Dr. Ahuja says.

Causes for concern:

  • No social smile.
  • Difficulty making eye contact.
  • Not babbling in infancy or talking clearly by age 1.

Other behaviors may include:

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  • Compulsively lining up objects.
  • Hand-flapping.
  • Twirling.
  • Pacing.
  • Sensory issues with foods and textures.

Why are symptoms difficult to notice sometimes?

Autism can run in families, so these behaviors can be hard to pinpoint at first, if such behaviors seem typical to that family, Dr. Ahuja says. Sometimes, the symptoms don’t become noticeable to families until a child enters preschool or school.

When it comes to understanding autism, Dr. Ahuja says the most important thing to know is that there is a wide spectrum of symptoms. People often think that autism only refers to children who are non-verbal and struggle with basic functions, but she points out that a child can have a very high IQ and still have autism.

What should parents do if they think their child may have autism?

Dr. Ahuja encourages families who notice their child displaying some (or more) of the symptoms of autism to talk to their pediatrician.

Research has shown that the earlier a child with autism receives treatment, the better his or her outcome will be later in life.

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And while an autism diagnosis may have seemed devastating decades ago, Dr. Ahuja notes children with autism today have more treatments and resources available to help them than ever before.

“When a family receives a diagnosis today, now they are saying, ‘We’re getting the diagnosis and we’re also getting a list of resources, we’re getting sent out into the community, to the right providers and we’re getting early intervention,’ ” she says. “People also know more about autism because it’s in the media, so that’s a huge change as well.”

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