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By Kortney West, MD

Dr. West is a board-certified pediatrician who has spent the last decade diagnosing and treating children with autism.

 

When families first begin learning about autism, they have many questions. Although they may have heard of autism, they may not know what it means – or what the diagnostic process entails. We’re here to help! Here is a basic guide that can help you get a handle on what autism is, what it may look like, and what to do if you think your child might have autism.

 

What is autism?

The scientific definition of autism is a deficit in social communication and interaction, combined with inflexible and repetitive behaviors. Communication difficulties by themselves do not constitute autism, and repetitive behaviors by themselves do not constitute autism either. Either of these symptoms may indicate a diagnosable condition, but both must be present for an accurate autism diagnosis.

It’s important to note that autism covers a wide spectrum of behaviors that look different in every person. In fact, the official diagnostic term for the condition is autism spectrum disorder. You may have heard other parents say something like, “I have a child on the spectrum” – they most likely mean that their child has received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

It’s also important to know that autism has nothing to do with a child’s intelligence. Many people with autism are very intelligent. Every person with autism is unique, with their own set of challenges and more importantly, gifts. 

What are some common signs of autism?

Diagnosing autism starts when someone in the child’s life becomes concerned about one or more behaviors. Sometimes, parents recognize that their child is behaving differently than other children their age. Or perhaps, friends or family members notice differences in behavior. A teacher may report challenging behaviors or a healthcare provider may notice signs of autism during a routine checkup.

Here are some common signs of autism:

  • Communication difficulties commonly present with speech delays and/or unusual vocalizations 
  • Social interaction difficulties can present, such as a lack of eye contact or challenges with interpreting and using nonverbal communication, like gestures or facial expressions. 
  • Regression or delayed development of skills can be another red flag.
  • We often see repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth or moving hands or arms repeatedly, in people who have autism.
  • People with autism may wish to follow the same schedule each day, which may include eating the same meals or doing the same activities at the same times. Some individuals may get distressed when the schedule is interrupted.
  • Some people with autism may engage in repetitive behaviors that harm themselves, such as repeatedly banging their heads or scratching themselves.
  • Some individuals may feel overwhelmed by loud sounds or other sensory input.

What should I do if I notice some of these signs?

If you are seeing any of these signs in your child, talk with your child’s healthcare provider about your concerns right away. There is so much that can be done to help children with autism live happy and productive lives, and early intervention is key. The earlier a child is diagnosed with autism, the better the outcomes tend to be. 

 

The views represented herein are my own and should not be construed as medical advice. If you have a question and would like to speak to one of our providers, please schedule an appointment here.


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