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By: Olumayowa Kushimo

 Published January 24th, 2011

Autism is a complex brain or neurodevelopmental disorder that affects many aspects of child development, including how a child talks, plays, and interacts. Although the causes of autism are not yet fully understood, experts agree that the earlier autistic children receive treatment for their symptoms, the better. Early intervention makes a huge difference in the outcome of the disorder, so as a parent, it's important to know autismís warning signs and seek immediate help if you spot them in your child.

There are a number of early signs in children that suggest to parents the need to seek professional advice and a possible assessment for autism. These early flags for parents may be categorised into a number of key developmental areas that reflects the established autistic deficits. Both receptive and expressive language skills are delayed and disordered in children with autism.


A child with autism:

         May not respond to his/her name when called at 12 months of age

         Presents with a language delay with no functional speech by 24 months or a loss of words after


         Appears to have hearing loss or selective hearing where child responds only to certain sounds such as TV advertisements or the fridge door but ignores the human voice.

         Does not use spontaneous (natural impulse) phrases to communicate by 12 months

         Has no babbling by 12 months

         Child is not pointing to indicate needs or wants and no waiting to indicate social interaction by 12 months

         Child is unable to follow simple directions or instructions


The SOCIAL RELATING SKILLS of children with autism are delayed and disordered.


A child with autism:

         May show a lack of awareness of other children

         Avoids contact with other children

         Does not smile socially or look directly at another person

         Appears to tune-out or switch-off from other people

         Tries to become independent to avoid social contact with others

         Does not share objects or information with another person


A number of BEHAVIOURAL INDICATORS are also usually present in children with autism.


A child with autism:

         Has a number of unusual preoccupations and attachments

         May appear over-active and uncooperative

         Use tantrum behaviour to communicate

         Has very limited and repetitive play behaviour

         May line up or spin objects

         Has very little attention span

         Has a preference for TV or videos

         Has difficulty coping with changes to normal routine


Most children with autism have some form of SENSORY IMPAIRMENT.


A child with autism:

         May walk on tiptoe

         May have unusual sensory reactions or preoccupations

         May be afraid of certain sounds

         Will only wear certain clothing

         May have a very limited diet and refuse to try new foods

         May be unable to touch certain textures without gaggling

         Uses peripheral vision to look at objects


Children with autism have IMPAIRED IMAGINATION, which is reflected in the way they play.


A child with autism:

         Prefers to watch TV or play alone rather than play interactively

         Will not share toys

         Will not take turns in play

         Has limited interest in playing with a range of toys

         May carry around one or two objects

         Does not engage in pretend play activities

         Tends to wander aimlessly rather than engage in play activities


The above indicators are examples of autistic-like behaviours. All children will engage in some of these behaviours at different times. It is only when a child engages in a number of these behaviours persistently and over a period of time that the alarm bells may sound and further investigation is warranted.


Even though autism may be diagnosed at any time, it is an early onset disorder and the symptoms are present, even if not readily observable, before the age of three. Some of the early indicators such as lack of eye contact to initiate joint attention, emotionally distant behaviour or dislike of affection, failure to alert to mother's voice, lack of imitation or social reciprocity, inability to settle, lack of functional use of non-verbal communication, and preoccupation with certain objects or movements, may be observed within the first 12 months of life.


Screening for autism is also recommended if a sibling or other family member has a diagnosis within the autism spectrum. Unfortunately, it is not usually until after a child has been diagnosed that parents, in hindsight, recognise that there were early signs of the disability, but personally I prefer to call it a CONDITION rather than a DISABILITY.


Remember, LEARN THE SIGNS...ACT EARLY. Early intervention is the key.


Olumayowa Kushimo

Clinical Behavioural Specialist Psychologist

National Health Service (NHS)

London, UK

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