Suspecting that your child may be showing signs of autism can be a stressful experience. The representation of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, in the press, or indeed at the school gates, can be alarming and unhelpful. The explosion of research in the area in recent years, however, coupled with changing attitudes in those in the support services dealing with the condition, means that there is no longer a need for undue concern when ASD symptoms are suspected. Many children, and adults, with the disease, lead happy, fulfilled lives, thanks to greater awareness, and a wealth of information and resources available to them.
ASD can be diagnosed at any age, but if the symptoms are severe, they are usually noticeable to parents by the age of two. In babies, however, there are various signs that you may notice, such as your baby not engaging in eye contact with you, or not trying to communicate with you via babbling, waving hands, or reacting to your voice, even when he or she seems able to hear other noises.
In pre-school-age children, the symptoms are much more apparent and can be seen particularly when you compare them to children of a similar age. For example, delays in speech development or understanding complex speech can be a sign of ASD, though speech delays can also be caused by other factors, and may not be a sign of ASD on their own.
A lack of desire to interact with other children, or erratic behavior towards them, can also be a symptom. Many children with ASD develop repetitive behavior patterns and feel more secure with rigorous routines. When the habits change at all, they can become very distressed. Also, they can express very distinct likes and dislikes of food based on its texture and consistency.
School-age children tend to continue to like routines and predictability and continue to find social interactions awkward. However, in mild cases, going to school can help children enormously to improve. In more severe cases, the school can lead to stress for the child unless it is carefully managed, and support is sought.
If you are concerned about your child, it’s best to visit the GP, who will probably perform a brief CHAT test, which involves asking you questions about your child, followed by doing a few exercises with your child to see how he or she reacts. If appropriate, your GP will refer you to an ASD health professional, such as a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a pediatrician, depending on your child’s case. These professionals will then carry out a series of appointments and tests to build up an in-depth view of your child.
The process may take several weeks or months. Still, at the end of it, you will either be able to rule out ASD or be given a diagnosis that will enable you to apply for sufficient support and advice to help you and your child develop and learn how to adapt to the condition.