Navigating and trying to figure out what should be on an autism symptom checklist can be daunting. Maybe there is a child in your life that shows signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), like repetitive behaviors, or an adult that questions whether their difficulties in social situations could mean they are autistic. Without a full checklist how do you know if they might be on the spectrum?
Parents, teachers, and other caregivers want to know the autism signs they should be looking for. They may also wonder if a formal assessment, diagnosis, and treatment are really necessary if they don’t meet the full criteria.
Autism spectrum disorder is a very individualized and unique diagnosis. One autistic person is going to have completely different symptoms than another and this makes it difficult to create a one size fits all checklist for autism for everybody.
However, there are similarities and regulated diagnostic criteria that can help professionals with diagnosing whether an individual has autism or not. These can be very helpful in deciding what path could be best for the individual.
What are some early signs and symptoms of autism to watch out for?
Autism symptoms are broken down into three sections by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These sections include social interactions and communication skills, repetitive patterns and restrictive behaviors, and other characteristics.
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Often when there are questions and concerns in relation to a child’s development and they seem to have a hard time with social interactions, or they display common signs of autism like flapping hands or repetitive patterns, there is potential for a formal assessment to be done.
The social and interactive autism symptoms to look out for in children which could mean you need to pursue an assessment include:
- avoiding eye contact
- no response to their name by nine months of age
- there is no change in facial expressions to display emotions
- no interest by 12 months in interactive games like pat a cake, or gestures like waving
- no interest in others by 15 months
- no pointing by 18 months
- does not respond to others’ emotions by 24 months
- does not join other children by 36 months
- no pretend play by 48 months
- no singing, dancing, or other theatrics by 60 months old
How is early diagnosis helpful?
The earlier a person with autism can be diagnosed, the better because they have earlier access to therapies and services. There are mental health services available for toddlers and young children that are still developing verbally, behaviorally, socially, etc.
However, it isn’t disastrous if someone is diagnosed in later childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. There are services and support for all kinds of people with autism symptoms and their particular needs.
Are repetitive behaviors a problem?
An autism diagnosis covers an array of behaviors and symptoms. It is worth seeking medical opinion if parents start noticing common symptoms of autism like:
- routines must be followed
- someone lining up toys or other objects and showing frustration when items are moved
- small changes and disruptions can be upsetting
- misunderstanding nonverbal communication and/or social cues
- echolalia (where words and phrases are repeated) is noted
- obsessive interests are observed
- parts of an item are interesting versus the whole item (wings, wheels, etc.)
- hand flapping, rocking, and/or spinning are used when over or under stimulated
- unusual reactions to sensory input
- toys and games are always played the same way
Is there anything else to watch for?
If parents are noticing consistent problems with their child’s behavior or a lack of response to what is going on around them, speaking with the child’s doctor about their concerns could help ease their worries. The doctor can either let the parents know which behaviors are developmentally appropriate or they could refer the child for an autism evaluation.
There are other signs and symptoms of autism that parents, educators, and caregivers can also watch out for. Those include:
- problems with eating: sensitivities, PICA, etc
- sleeping problems: insomnia, waking throughout the night, bad dreams, etc
- underdeveloped / delayed speech and language
- underdeveloped / delayed movement skills
- delay in self awareness and activity levels
- unusual / problem behaviors
- seizures and /or epilepsy
- stomach/ gastrointestinal problems (bloating, constipation, hungry all the time, etc)
- irrational fears or lack of fear
- high anxiety and /or stress
- over or under reactive with social and emotional interactions
When to start seeking resources and assessment
Every individual is different and parents know their children the best. If there are any concerns the parent notices behaviorally or filling out the screening tool provided during Well-Child visits (if they are in the USA), they could talk to their child’s doctor.
Another instance could be: if the child’s doctor brings up red flags and different potential developmental disorders, it could be time to seek outside help. This is usually when the doctor refers out for the autism assessment or screening.
It can be daunting to hear that a child is having difficulties reaching certain milestones. It can also be a challenge for many adults to find out that their child is going to need to be assessed and many ask themselves, how will their child respond?
This can be stressful, but the process of the assessment is pretty straightforward, and the professionals working with children are used to neurodiverse children from different backgrounds.
Preparing for an assessment
The assessment process can differ in various locations but generally, after the doctor sends the referral, the parent can expect to receive a call from their local mental health facility. Another possibility could be a private service that has the professionals available for the assessment, it’s often dependent on insurance and what’s available.
The parent will set up the appointment and bring the child in, the practitioner typically brings the child back to ask questions and observe the child, while the parent fills out a couple questionnaires and provides information. They usually have different toys or games that the child can interact with on their own or with the professional.
After the assessment is done, the practitioner should be able to tell the parent how long it will be to get the results. The parent is able to ask questions and clarify anything they may not have been able to with the doctor.
If the practitioner is unable to answer questions, they are usually able to point the parent in the direction to get their questions and/or concerns addressed. Then it is time to wait for the results of the assessment.
When the parent receives the call, after there has been enough information collected, there is usually another appointment with a case worker. In this appointment, if the child has a diagnosis, the parent is provided choices for potential therapies they get to choose from and talk to.
From there they set up the appointment for paperwork and introductions. Goals are determined and a schedule for services is started.
These steps may not be the same for every state, country, and child. Whatever the process though, knowing the people that are going to be a part of the team to support your child is empowering. There are so many parents that feel alone and don’t know what to do. These people are there to help the child and their family succeed in their own way.
An autism diagnosis is only the beginning. The therapies, support groups, and potential friendships formed through the different groups and parent training sessions are what help round the edges of this journey.
The therapy sessions which are made available to you could include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc. These are there to help the child learn, develop, and strengthen skills, their bodies, and minds.
These help lay the groundwork for the child’s life as an adult, forming habits, building on, and learning new skills necessary for their future. These are things that their neurotypical peers may also be working on, just without the support the child with autism is receiving.
Support groups can be for parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers, siblings, and other members in the family whose lives are touched by autism. These groups help individuals develop their own skills and tools that support their needs, the person with autism’s needs, and the needs of the family and community.
Some skills can include understanding different behaviors and why the individual with autism has difficulties that they may not understand. Also, learning how to advocate and educate those around the family and autistic person about autism, personal care, and other necessary skills for everyone to live a full life and be their version of successful.
Through training and education opportunities, parents have the ability to learn skills and ways to provide opportunities for the autistic person and family to grow in skills that are being taught, or teach new skills to move forward with.
It’s not a destination, it’s a journey
When an individual receives an autism diagnosis, some people can feel that it’s the end of certain goals they had. That is the furthest thing from the truth!
An autism diagnosis is the beginning of a journey of discovery, of learning, and getting to see the child who has autism in a new light. Knowing there is power and empowerment for the autistic child and their family through the process that best suits them.
The autism symptom checklist in this article is a good start and should help parents know what to look for. It is always a good idea, if there are concerns, to talk with your child’s doctor for any further assessments or to get some questions and concerns answered.
Within that process, there is potential for therapies, support, education, and an array of possibilities. After all, autism isn’t a destination, it is a special journey the person with autism takes with those who love them.