Autism Awareness: What is Autism and What are the Early Signs?

April 9, 2021 9:16 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Autism Awareness
With April around the corner, you might see an increase in everyone wearing blue. Every April, we celebrate World Autism Month and April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. During this time, several people don the color blue to spread awareness about the prevalence of autism and to show support for those within the autism community, both those with a diagnosis or for those who love a person with autism. As we move closer to April and closer to wearing blue, it is important to discuss two important questions: What is autism and what are the early signs?

What is Autism?

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. While there is nothing that sets aside someone with autism by how they look, someone with autism may learn, communicate, behave, think, and process things differently than his/her/their neuro-typical peers. These abilities vary from person to person on a spectrum—one person may require heavy support to function in everyday life and another person may need no support at all.

As of 2020, a study has shown that ASD affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States with ASD being four times as prevalent among boys as among girls. Currently, there is no cure for ASD however, research has shown that early intervention services can improve a child’s development—the earlier, the better! Autism Speaks has reported that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and therapies based on its principles are the most researched and commonly used behavioral interventions for autism.

Fast Facts About Autism (from Autism Speaks)

  • Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups
  • There is no medical detection for autism
  • Although there is not medical detection for autism, research indicates that genetics are involved in the majority of cases
  • Children born to older parents are at a higher risk for having autism
  • Over the past two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism and the results are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.

What are the Early Signs?

A reliable ASD diagnosis can be made by an experienced professional by age 2, and sometimes can be detected at 18 months or younger, as reported by the CDC. Here are a few examples of the various early indicators of autism in children:

Social Differences:

  • Very little to no eye contact
  • Does not respond to smiles or other facial expressions
  • Does not show concern (empathy) for others
  • Does not look at objects or events that parents are looking at or pointing to (e.g., an airplane in the sky)
  • Does not point to objects or event to get a parent to look at
  • Does not bring objects of personal interest to show to a parent
  • May engage in behaviors that are not typical in regard to an activity (e.g. covering their ears when a picture is being taken)
  • Does not often have appropriate facial expressions
  • May not show empathy for others

Communication Differences:

  • Does not point at things to show need
  • Repeats exactly what they hear others say (sometimes called “echoing” or “echolalia”)
  • Does not respond to name
  • May mix up pronouns (e.g., refers to self as “you,” and others as “I”)
  • Difficulty initiating or sustaining a conversation
  • Does not use toys or other objects to represent people or real life in pretend play
  • Does not say single words by 16 months of age
  • May have good rote memorization, especially for numbers, letters, songs, or a specific topic

Behavioral Differences:

  • Rocks, spins, sways, flaps hands, or walks on toes for long periods of time (called “stereotypic behavior”)
  • Likes routines, rituals, and order and may have difficulty straying from the routine
  • May be obsessed with a few unusual activities and enjoys doing them throughout the day (e.g., lining up objects)
  • Unusual use of vision or gaze—may look at objects from unusual angles (e.g., from below, from the side of the eye, very close to the face)
  • May play with parts of toys rather than the toy as a whole or plays with toys outside of their usual function (e.g., spinning wheels of a car rather than rolling the car, tapping blocks together rather than building with them)
  • May have an aversion to foods and have a limited diet
  • May experience pain differently (e.g., hypo/hypersensitive to pain)

As always, this is a short list that is not fully inclusive of all specific signs and symptoms and is only meant to be informative. If you are concerned about your child’s social interactions, communication, or behaviors and suspect signs of autism, contact your pediatrician for an evaluation or screening. Knowing the early signs and beginning early intervention is crucial to help our learners gain those very important social, communication, and behavioral skills to help them become meaningful members of society and to help them live their lives to the fullest! Naturally, if an autism diagnosis is received or suspected, this can take a toll on parents and caregivers. It is important to remember—a diagnosis does not mean the end of the world. Those we love on the spectrum can progress in overall function. Some may remain with their typical peers in schools, form healthy and meaningful relationships with their peers and family, and gain the skills necessary for independence as adults. Being proactive in learning about ASD, looking for the signs, and starting early intervention are all key factors to helping our kiddos be successful in life—so this April, remember to wear blue, spread awareness, spread acceptance, and share your stories! #lightitupblue

References:

Center for Disease Control. (2020, March 27). What is ASD? Retrieved from
https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

What are the early signs of autism? (2021). Retrieved March 23, 2021, from
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Autism/Pages/Early-Signs-of-Autism-Spectrum-Disorders.aspx

Autism statistics and facts. (2021). Retrieved March 29th, 2021, from
http://autismspeaks.org/autism-statistics-asd

**BCOTB has been Tampa’s leading provider of pediatric ABA therapy since 2003. With four clinic locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, we know that our clinic is the right spot for your early learner! BCOTB treats a variety of diagnoses – ASD, ADD, ADHD, & Down Syndrome and specializes in early intervention – children from birth to 10 years old! BCOTB accepts most major insurances, including, but not limited to: Aetna, Anthem, Baycare, Beacon, BCBS, Cigna, CMS, Florida Blue, Humana, MHNet, Meritain Health, Magella Health, UnitedHealthcare, and TRICARE.**

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