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    By Lori Becker 

    It seems as though every week there is a new article or report regarding autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), mainly because there is still much unknown about the disorder. Researchers and doctors have been unable to determine a root or source as to the cause of ASDs, which can make treatment frustrating and difficult to navigate. However, experts have been able to hone in on the “red flags” or symptoms of ASD, some of which show up as early as 12 months of age.

    What is included under ASD? 

    Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder, autism affects the normal functioning of the brain, which impacts development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.

    In babies and young children, ASD affects the areas of language development, social skills, and general behavior. Following are some “red flags” that may indicate ASD.2, 3

    Language Development Red Flags: 

    • Significant delays in language development
    • Begins to speak much later than his or her peers
    • May not begin to speak on his or her own at all
    • Begins to speak at typical development time and subsequently loses language skills
    • Speaks with a strange tone or in a “sing-song” or “robot-like” voice
    • Inability to maintain the give and take of a true conversation
    • Repeats words or phrases, but does not use these words or phrases appropriately (a condition called echolalia)
    Social Skills Red Flags:
    • Poor eye contact
    • Failure to respond to his or her name
    • Resists being cuddled or held
    • Appears to not hear you at times
    • Prefers being or playing alone, may retreat into his or her own world
    • Tendency to be unaware of and uninterested in others' feelings
    General Behavior Red Flags:
    • Exhibits characteristic behaviors such as rocking, hand flapping, spinning, or other repetitive behaviors
    • Very “routine sensitive” and does not like deviating from established daily routines (when unable to perform a routine or ritual, he or she will often become unhappy and upset)
    • Feels the need to constantly be moving
    • Plays with toys in an unusual way (example: a child might be fascinated by the wheels on the car, spinning them constantly, yet not playing with the car as a car)

    As you can see from all of the examples above, there are many symptoms that can be regarded as ASD. Not all of these symptoms are present in all diagnosed ASD children, but seek the assistance of a pediatrician if you notice more than three to five consistent symptoms that worry you about your own child or student.

    Studies show that an early ASD diagnosis can help make the condition more treatable; behaviors can be treated and unlearned with therapies and pro-active treatments. The longer ASD undiagnosed, the more difficult it may be for a child to respond to treatment.4 This is why early intervention is a key to treating children with ASD. In fact, there are many organizations and state funded programs that service ASD children. This is a great benefit for parents faced with a diagnosis of ASD.

    Unfortunately, sometimes parents do not want to acknowledge the symptoms of ASD, so it may be the responsibility of a teacher or caretaker to discuss the issue with parents. It is crucial to every child’s success—with ASD or not—to have supportive, communicative adults in their lives. It may be uncomfortable and difficult to bring this issue to a parent’s attention, but it is the best for the child in question. Recognizing the signs of ASD in a child is the key to diagnosing, treating, and helping that child succeed throughout his or her life.


    1. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Accessed January 2011.
    2. About Autism, from the Autism Society. Accessed January 2011.
    3. Autism Signs & Symptoms, from On Spectrum. Accessed January 2011.
    4. Autism and Asperger's Syndrome Early Warning Signs, from Autism Today. Accessed January 2011.

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