Most children respond early in life to their parent's voices and then begin to smile and react to other people and sounds, as well as images and sights. A very small percentage of children, however, don't respond and seem not to bond with their parents. They remain isolated and often practice a lot of repetitive behavior, such as tapping or banging. When they learn to speak, children with autism may simply repeat a word over and over without seeming to communicate.
Autism is in no way a reflection on a parent's ability to love and nurture her child, as it was once believed to be. If your child is diagnosed with a developmental delay such as autism, you might consider joining a support group or talking to a therapist to gain support and clarity on how you can handle this situation.
Autism is actually a spectrum of disorders (which includes Asperger's syndrome) involving language and social development. It does not have to isolate a child and can be handled with clear thinking and rational help. It has been about twenty-five years since children began to be more commonly diagnosed with autism and Asperger's, and many of the young adults who lived with these conditions have become fully functional, capable grownups.
Signs and Symptoms
Aside from rocking and seeming disconnected, your child may seem overly focused on one detail of a toy or not be able to play with a toy in new ways, such as using a spoon to bang and then stir and then build with. No exact cause for autism is known, but research is pointing toward a genetic predisposition to certain behaviors and thinking patterns. In fact, some families have other children with developmental delays and other disorders along the autism spectrum.
Getting a Diagnosis
If you are worried that your twelve- to twenty-four-month-old child is showing signs of autism or any of the autism spectrum disorders, the first person to talk to is your child's primary pediatrician. If this doctor has known your baby since birth, she will easily detect developmental delays and be able to respond to your concerns if you feel your child isn't thriving emotionally or intellectually.
You might want to write down what you notice about your child's behavior so that you are well prepared to answer any questions the doctor may have for you while determining a diagnosis. For example, if you notice your son recoils from your touch or seems to be lost in his own world, or if your daughter can't adjust to new surroundings or change, then that is something to tell your doctor.
Your pediatrician will compare your child's behavior to diagnostics guidelines established by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). She may also schedule your child for hearing, vision, and other tests to rule out other health concerns.
Keeping your pediatrician informed about your concerns, and making sure she is also looking out for signs and symptoms of delays, will help your child in the future, too. If your child is two or slightly older and still lagging behind, you can offer this information to a specialist who can make an accurate diagnosis based on your child's current and past behaviors. Doctors and specialists can offer parents ideas on communication, behavioral training, and other therapeutic skills that can improve a child's health outlook.
Although no parent causes or is responsible for any of the autism spectrum disorders, it is true that early intervention can help. Working with a team, whether it's only your primary care physician or a primary care physician along with a specialist, will help you and your child pursue a healthy future.