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Could my child have autism?

Autism is a very prevalent disorder found in children and adults. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 2.2% of all U.S. adults aged 18 and over have a condition related to the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

A separate study indicated that ASD is nearly just as common in children aged eight and under. The study concluded that 1 in 54 children (or 1.85%) have diagnosable ASD.

Knowing this information, parents should be aware that there is a very real possibility that their child could have autism. Recognizing ASD early is critical because it allows a child to receive therapeutic treatments which  can address challenges the child may face in socialization, schooling, or other parts of everyday life.

The CDC explains that it’s important to monitor, evaluate, and diagnose children at an early age to ensure they receive the treatment and support needed to reach their full potential. 

Parents should know that there is no standard presentation of autism. There are many clinical signs professionals look to in diagnosing the disorder, and some children who exhibit a few symptoms may have a different diagnosis altogether. 

Receiving a clinical diagnosis and developing a therapeutic strategy to meet the child’s needs are the most vital steps for parents to take when  ASD is suspected.

Are There Known Causes or Risk Factors Associated With Autism?

The first thing for parents to recognize is that autism can occur in any child population within all racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups.

The only known trend is that ASD is about four times more likely to be diagnosed in boys than girls. Note that the key word is “diagnosed” — some experts are concerned that autism is currently being underdiagnosed in young girls.

Autism is also strongly linked with genetic factors rather than environmental ones. This may mean that if a sibling, parent, or close blood relative exhibits similar behaviors to the child – either in adulthood or in the individual’s youth – this may indicate a familial gene related to ASD expression.

While some individuals and groups have attempted to argue that autism may be related to child immunization, over 25 studies have failed to establish a statistical link. Parents should continue to be diligent in vaccinating their children to prevent diseases.

Overall, parents should not be on the lookout for any cause of autism in particular if they suspect their child might have ASD. Instead, they should closely observe the child’s behaviors, especially if these behaviors mirror others seen in the family. 

Further, parents should take their children to receive a comprehensive evaluation once ASD is suspected. No amount of self-research can allow the average parent to diagnose ASD and address the possible challenges it may present. 

Trained professionals, however, can administer a variety of non-invasive tests to draw that conclusion. Based on the results, they can formulate a treatment plan. 

Be aware that any treatment plans addressing ASD do not aim to “cure” autism. Instead, they provide learning heuristics and strategies. These can help the child cope with any challenges or difficult situations they encounter. Each child with ASD will have their own unique obstacles they must overcome to have a fulfilling life. 

Applying the best-fit therapies can help your child thrive while still allowing them to be themselves. They don’t have to disguise their ASD diagnosis or feel at odds with it in order to achieve their goals in life.

What Are Signs of Autism Parents Should Watch Out for?

ASD can present quite differently from child to child, especially with varying personalities. 

The most urgent signs parents should watch out for are related to development and socialization. While not every child is extroverted or an avid communicator, children with ASD may encounter extreme difficulties as they mature unless steps are taken to help them adjust to their disorder. Once they reach school age, they may also face challenges with succeeding in an academic setting.

Because of the risk of delayed development, parents should observe their child closely for possible signs that they might have ASD. These signs will change somewhat depending on the child’s age. 

Note that autism can be more difficult to detect at a very young age, as some children experience delayed development for reasons other than ASD. The average age at which autism is diagnosed is a little over four years old, although testing can potentially ascertain an ASD diagnosis as young as 18 months.

Symptoms of autism at an early age include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not engaging in normal play, especially involving physical cues, like peekaboo
  • A fixation or obsession with certain objects
  • Highly repetitive play
  • Repeating sounds or phrases heard rather than attempting to form new ones
  • A dislike of physical affection, such as hugging and cuddling
  • Unexplained tantrums
  • Lining up toys or stacking objects
  • Flapping hands and arms, rocking, or twirling in circles as a form of self-stimulation
  • Upset easily by disruptions to routine or changes to home environment
  • A fixation on particular parts of toys, such as spinning wheels
  • A reluctance to perform gestures, like pointing or waving

As a  child ages, the parent or others in the child’s life may notice differences in the way they communicate or act compared to other children. These differences may include:

  • A reluctance to respond in conversation
  • Repetition of particular words or phrases
  • Does not pick up on physical cues, like pointing or head nodding
  • An inability to understand certain modes of communication, like sarcasm or jokes
  • Difficulty engaging others in conversation; often wants to talk about their own chosen subject and will ignore attempts to change the subject
  • May not understand certain social situations, such as treating a stranger the same as a classmate or acquaintance
  • May talk in a flat-sounding or sing-songy voice
  • Difficulty focusing or listening to what other people say
  • Likes staying very organized
  • Strong aversions to certain textures or foods
  • Has obsessive interests, such as with certain toys, hobbies, or media properties
  • Meltdowns or temper tantrums with an inability to console the child

You may notice that the list is quite diverse, so there’s a good chance any given child or adult exhibits at least one of the symptoms listed. Additionally, a child with ASD is likely to only have some of these symptoms, not all of them.

These factors make it challenging to arrive at an ASD diagnosis without comprehensive evaluation and testing. Parents should know that the risks of a missed ASD diagnosis are much greater than incorrectly assuming the child might have ASD. Children who go undiagnosed are likely to encounter much more stress in their life unless the child and their caregivers are prepared for challenges that may arise.

Your Child Could Have Autism, Which Means You May Need Experienced Help for Them to Thrive

Children with autism can grow up to become happy, successful adults. Those with ASD who do not have major developmental impedances are often indistinguishable from their peers. Children with severe ASD disorders can still usually function independently with the right support from their family and community.

In other words, an autism diagnosis does not inherently mean limited opportunities to thrive. If parents and children are willing to work to build the skills needed for a child with ASD to succeed, that child will be well-equipped to have a fulfilling future.

The key is early diagnosis and intervention, and that all starts with  initial awareness.  If you think your child may have ASD, act now and reach out to professionals for a diagnosis and suggestions on what to do next.

Therapeutic Pathways has a multitude of programs available to help your child get the evidence-based autism treatment they need. Take a look at our services for children with autism and contact us today to find out more about how we can help your child thrive.