Building awareness of autism: Recognizing the signs in children

April 13, 2022 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Are you noticing something unusual about how your child behaves, communicates or socializes?

About 1 in 44 kids in the United States are likely to be diagnosed with autism, including those who previously would have received the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, which, since 2013 has been classified under autism spectrum disorder (ASD) rather than as a separate condition.

Autistic children may present with skills, talents and abilities that seem well developed in some areas but may have challenges in other areas of life. This may make it difficult for parents, and even medical providers, to diagnose a child when navigating the constantly changing social landscape of childhood.

How can you tell if your child may be autistic? Some features of ASD in childhood include:

  • Difficulty with social interactions with same age peers (and may relate better to adults than other kids)
  • Fixed interests/preoccupations (very strong focus on particular subjects or activities)
  • Repetitive routines, inflexibility, difficulty moving to new tasks until others are finished
  • Repetitive behaviors or mannerisms/gestures
  • Repetitive or unchanging speech patterns (may speak in a flat tone, loudly or repeating comments)
  • Demonstrating a formal style of speaking
  • Fleeting or indirect eye contact across many types of social interactions
  • Trouble reading the body language of others or following social cues
  • Sensitivity to the environment (light, noise, etc.)
  • In early childhood delays in motor skill development, awkward movements, clumsiness
  • Difficulty with give-and-take or taking turns in conversation
  • Literal interpretation of language (in some cases difficulty with sarcasm, humor or related nuances in communication)
  • Difficulty understanding others’ feelings, difficulty understanding the role of empathy

A child displaying these features may not necessarily have ASD. To be officially diagnosed, a child must have a combination of these symptoms that affect daily life — family, friends and school. Consulting a medical or child developmental expert is important to rule out other reasons for these symptoms and to make an official diagnosis.

The autism experience is different for everyone. The use of “spectrum" regarding autism refers to the wide range of impact on different areas of a person’s social interactions and daily living activities.

A diagnosis of ASD comes with levels of severity, with varying levels of support needed. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, and while many children are diagnosed with ASD in early childhood, some may not be diagnosed until adolescence.

Autistic children, as with their neurotypical peers, often seek to fit in and interact with others but they may have difficulty knowing how to meet this goal. As a result, autistic children and teens may face challenges socializing the way they desire and may be at risk for negative and hurtful experiences like bullying. Many may be at risk for developing mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression, especially in the teen years.

Early identification is important. Autistic children who are diagnosed and provided support earlier in life have an increased chance of meeting challenges and increasing success in meeting their goals moving forward in their lives.

If you have questions about your child’s needs and growth, don’t wait. Linden Oaks Behavioral Health offers care across different areas in adolescent behavioral health, including intensive outpatient programming for adolescents with ASD who need support with anxiety, depression or related mood disorders.

The focus is on helping teens better work with their emotions and grow their ability to function more flexibly in school and other settings. Group therapy and family psychoeducation offers teens and their parents a chance to talk about what's working or not working at home, while the teens build skills with exercises to guide them in practicing new approaches for difficulties in school and elsewhere.

To learn more, call the Linden Oaks Help Line 24/7 at 630-305-5027.

Get support for autism at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Note: This article is written with language that some within the neurodiversity community use when describing themselves, for example “Autistic adult or autistic child” instead of “individual with autism” or “individual with ASD.”

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