Watching for signs of autism by age may help professionals get a head start on treatment. For parents who worry about autism, it's a good idea to learn about specific, age-related symptoms from infancy through adulthood.
In simple terms, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a set of disorders that affect neurodevelopment. In most cases, characteristics of autism lie under the following groups: social disabilities, difficulties with communication and repetitive or restrictive behavior patterns. Autism or classical ASD remains the most well-known form of ASD and occurs across all social, age and ethnic groups. While the disorder can strike female children, male children remain up to four times more likely to have autism.
A Look at Common Signs of Autism by Age
No matter the maturity of your child, finding out the signs of autism by age allows you to help your health care provider form an accurate diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis as soon as possible means building early intervention and treatment plans which will allow your child to enjoy a better quality of life all the way through adulthood.
Infancy to Two Years
For decades, researchers and medical professionals have sought a way to screen for autism in babies or infants, but have not yet found a way to form a reliable diagnosis at that age. Chief among the issues that prevent a diagnosis is the variability of overall development in individual babies. Most children younger than two years have yet to acquire a mature grasp of motor skills and language, which are two of the areas doctors screen first for autism. To begin a diagnosis, professionals must look for the absence of common behaviors rather than the presence of atypical behaviors. In addition, early development varies from one child to the next, and it is difficult to set markers in stone.
Warning signs in children under two include:
- Avoids eye contact
- Lack of (positive or negative) attention seeking behavior
- Does not return smiles or glances
- Absence of cooing and babbling
- Excessive staring at inanimate objects
- Does not display gestures (pointing, waving, grasping, etc.)
- Loss of acquired language
It's important to remember that children develop at different rates and that not every baby who displays these warning signs will receive an autism diagnosis. However, if your baby or toddler appears to have the early warning signs, a professional screening may be in order.
Two Years to Pre-Adolescence
Once a child passes the two year mark, diagnosis becomes easier due to the presence or absence of age appropriate development. In an autistic child parents, caregivers and family physicians may begin to notice aberrant behavior patterns, along with lack of developmental milestones at this age.
Warning signs in children of this age range include:
- Prolonged repetitive behavior (rocking, head-banging, twirling, etc.)
- Avoids interaction and cuddling
- Lack of eye contact
- Lack of speech and language or loss of acquired speech
- Does not respond to name
- Speaks in sing-song or flat voice
- Difficulty understanding thoughts and feelings in others
Adolescence and Adulthood
It's unlikely that anyone with autism will reach adolescence or adulthood without having received a diagnosis. When in doubt, look for the symptoms discussed below or schedule a screening with your health professional. Keep in mind that along with the regular symptoms of autism, adolescents must also deal with hormonal changes and peer pressure while adults with autism must learn how to develop independence and close relationships outside of family.
Adolescent and adult autism warning signs include:
- Increased communication difficulties
- Echolalia or repetitive speech
- Difficulty maintaining interest in peer discussions
- Displays increasing inflexibility in anxious situations
- Development of intense interest and advanced vocabulary in only one or two areas or subjects
- Poor understanding of personal risk situations and poor pain perception
- Poor social skills and persistent problems with intimacy
- Sudden depression or anxiety
Now that you know how to spot signs of autism by age range, don't wait to seek assistance. Along with helping design a treatment plan, your doctor can give you both community and national resources to help your child as well as your entire family cope with an autism diagnosis.