Autism spectrum disorder has a very wide definition range. Since it is accepted as a congenital neurodevelopmental disorder, autism symptoms can be seen in both babies and toddlers. Identifying only the symptoms and signs necessary for a diagnosis of autism may take longer than in older children.
It is very difficult to observe and understand signs of autism spectrum disorder as a baby, until 12 months of age. Autism symptoms become more pronounced after a certain age. The first symptoms and signs of autism usually become more pronounced in children after the age of 2 or 3. On the other hand, as we mentioned, it can be observed earlier. The earlier autism is diagnosed and the sooner education is started, the sooner a quality life can be initiated for the child on the autism spectrum. For this reason, it is very important to know the signs of autism in babies and toddlers. The first job here, of course, falls to the parents.
Although it is quite difficult to diagnose autism spectrum disorder before 24 months, autism symptoms usually begin to appear between 12 and 18 months. If autism symptoms are observed at 18 months of age, intensive intervention treatments can be helpful to alleviate the long-term effects of symptoms. Also, some signs and symptoms of autism may be observed at 6 to 12 months of age, depending on the symptoms and their severity.
The earliest signs of autism spectrum disorder involve the absence of behaviors of normally developed babies and toddlers, however, it does not mean that it is the presence of abnormal behaviors. Therefore, it can be difficult to distinguish between them. For example, this may be misinterpreted as the earliest signs of autism, as some babies by nature may appear quiet, calm, and undemanding. However, parents can also understand early warning signs if they know what to watch out for.
Autism Signs in Babies (until 12 months)
As we mentioned before, the cause of autism spectrum disorder is not known exactly. For this reason, it is almost impossible for professionals to diagnose autism as an infant and baby. Autism is considered by experts to be a disorder caused by certain neural problems that affect brain structure and function. Although the factors that cause autism are thought to be both genetic and environmental, it is still a subject under investigation.
Autism is a condition that can be observed in every individual, regardless of language, religion, race, or status. Therefore, it is not possible for the child to have autism due to a mistake made during pregnancy. However, it is an undeniable fact that the family plays a serious role in the developmental stage of the baby. For example, they should not allow their children to watch television before the age of 2. This does not mean that every child who watches television before the age of 2 will be on the autism spectrum. Nevertheless, they should also know that children under the age of 2 are in the risk group.
Recognizing the signs of autism in babies is of great importance in taking action against this condition. That’s why it is so important for parents to be good observers. With the awareness brought by these observations, they should monitor their babies and observe the presence of symptoms of autism. In this direction, the main autism symptoms that can be seen in babies at first are as follows;
- Inability to make eye contact,
- Fixation on objects
- Being unresponsive when their names are called,
- Making senseless and ridiculous movements and sounds,
- Avoiding social smiling,
- Avoiding hugging and physical contact.
Due to the reasons mentioned above, autism can also be defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder that imposes responsibilities on family members and requires observation and follow-up.
Diagnosing autism in infants and babies based on the symptoms that may be seen in the early stages of life is difficult, but not impossible. Accordingly, we can list the signs of autism in babies younger than 12 months as follows;
- Insensitivity to people and faces around them
- Not making eye contact
- Not to smile,
- Not wanting to be held,
- Overreacting to smells, colors, and tastes
- Being unresponsive or frightened by sounds,
- Ignore the games,
- Not like physical touch.
Babies who show one or more of the above symptoms at various levels should be examined by a professional without wasting time.
Autism Signs in Toddlers (12 to 36 months)
It is possible to encounter situations that did not show obvious symptoms before or that the symptoms were not noticed by the parents. However, there are signs that the symptoms in toddlers between 12 and 36 months old can be observed by the parents. We can list these symptoms as follows;
- Absence of gestures and facial expressions,
- Being unresponsive to the people and events around them,
- No or very little babbling,
- Low or no verbal skills,
- Poor social skills,
- Not using words,
- Not following objects visually,
- Not pointing objects with their fingers,
- No ability to wave,
- Not have the interest to play with peers,
- Failure to form sentences of 2 or 3 words, which should be formed until the 24-month period.
The above symptoms are the symptoms that can be encountered as autism symptoms in toddlers 12 to 36 months old. It should be kept in mind that with the appearance of these symptoms, it is not too late to diagnose and treat, but it is necessary to be examined by a specialist doctor without wasting any more time.
Autism Signs in Toddlers Aged 2
Especially at the age of 2 years, symptoms of autism spectrum disorder are observed primarily as a delay in language development. Under normal circumstances, a two-year-old child should form two-word sentences, enrich their vocabulary, and have mutual conversations. Symptoms such as the inability to form two-word sentences, the absence of more than 10 words in the vocabulary, and the inability to develop parallel games in a child who has reached the age of two are the main symptoms that will suggest autism.
Their physical development is quite normal, they are beautiful and attractive children. Motor skills are generally good. Small muscle skills such as cutting paper, placing beads one by one, or stringing on a string are observed to be quite weak. However, many 2-year-old children with autism can easily assemble and disassemble mechanical and snap-on toys.
- Language development is delayed. They find it difficult to express their wishes. Some 2-year-olds with autism do not speak at all, while others can talk but cannot chat with each other.
- There are things or words in their speech that are not normal and are perceived as strange when they are heard. They may speak hesitantly in a very heavy and low tone.
- They do not seem to understand what is being said to them, they may not respond to their names, or they may have difficulty doing what they are told. They can suddenly laugh, cry and scream.
- They focus on an object, part of the object, or a subject for a long time.
- They do very little of what they see. They rarely repeat the behavior of people around them.
- They tend to play alone. They do not show much interest in other children and generally do not share their belongings. They can even become aggressive.
- They exhibit harsh and aggressive behaviors. They have difficulty moving to another task while doing a certain thing. Any change in the environment they live in can cause stress, even distract and harm them.
- They are also very conservative in the food they eat. They always want to eat the same thing and tend to eat at the same time.
- They play with toys or objects in different ways. They play by stacking or lining up flat things. They have an interest in constantly opening and closing doors. They can constantly press a button on a toy or spin a truck that is spinning on its wheels.
- They tend to harm themselves. They may hit themselves or bite themselves.
- Repetitive behaviors, one of the classic symptoms of autism, are also observed in this age stage.
- They can be overly sensitive to most things. They may refuse to touch certain objects, are bothered by loud noises, are very sensitive to strong odors, or simply refuse to eat most foods. They tend to wear a specific outfit and may want to wear it all the time. They prefer it to be unlabeled or made from a single material.
- Pain thresholds vary widely. Some may overreact to pain, while others may not respond at all. For example, they may not notice when they cover their ears at loud noises or when their knees are injured and bleeding while leaving the environment.
- Sleep disorders are a very common condition. Many children with autism already have trouble falling asleep, waking up suddenly in the middle of the night, or waking up very early.
- Exhibits behavioral problems. They are stubborn, they are very selfish, they do not help anyone, they are overactive. They may act hyperactive, irritable, or impulsive.
The most surprising features of children with autism are their limited skills in many areas, but the special skills they have in some areas. Many children on the spectrum are observed singing before speaking; some can play an instrument very well. Some parents also state that their children have strong memories as well as musical skills. They often tell that the child does not forget a place he/she went to years ago, a special item in that place, can memorize very long poems and repeat a very long speech he/she has heard on television as it is.
Another special skill of children with autism is numbers and numerical relations. Some of them learn numbers very quickly and can easily do very difficult operations in their minds. There are also children on the spectrum who can copy the pictures they see very well, paint them well, disassemble and assemble mechanical toys, and complete complex puzzles easily.
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