Autism by the Numbers: What to recognize at each month of development
Societies have a long history of intolerance toward the atypical. Great artists, musicians, and thinkers have always exhibited “non-normative” personality traits. Famous people ranging from Michelangelo to Emily Dickinson and Bill Gates are rumored to have Asperger’s.
Autism is at a similar historical cusp – No longer seen as a disability, deficit, or disorder, society has begun to recognize autistic people as genetically and neurologically distinct and not disabled – thinking and feeling people with strengths and challenges outside the norm.
That leaves us with the question: If autism is an “exceptionality,” then what is it exactly?
What is autism? – Autism tends to run in families. Specific genes are connected to autism. If one parent carries one or more of these gene changes, they may get passed to a child. Genetic changes can also arise at the embryonic stage. These changes are not the cause of autism in the same way that low pressure will not necessarily cause a tornado. Genetics increases the risk for the disorder.
Genetics affects early brain development and how brain nerve cells – and even brain regions – communicate with each other. For this reason, autism exhibits primarily as a challenge in social communication and some instances as repetitive behaviors.
Symptoms of autism may: begin in early childhood (though they may go unrecognized) persist and interfere with daily living.
Delayed speech – Babies generally don’t talk until 12 to 18 months in age. The nature of early development makes it hard to recognize autism because all babies have delayed speech. With the statistical norm, at nine months, babies understand a few simple words like “no” and “bye-bye.” They also expand their range of consonant sounds and tones of voice. By the end of 12 months, most babies speak and comprehend a few simple words like “mama” and “dadda.”
These are still statistical averages. How do you know if the child is a late bloomer, has a language problem, or even autism?
- Understanding language. A child typically understands words before she uses them. If you suspect that she doesn’t understand, she may have a language delay.
- Gestures. Children will use gestures to communicate before they learn words. The use of gestures indicates a communicative child.
- Learning. Even if a child is slow to talk or if they are making progress at their own rate and trying new words and adding to their limited vocabulary, chances are she will catch up.
Signs of Autism (from Autism Speaks)[i]
- By 6 months – Few or no big smiles or other warm, joyful, and engaging expressions. They show limited or no eye contact.
- By 9 months – You see little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions.
- By 12 months – There is little or no babbling or back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving. Little or no response to name.
- By 16 months – Very few or no words.
- By 24 months – Very few or no meaningful two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating).
- At any age –
- Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Persistent preference for solitude
- Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
- Delayed language development
- Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
- Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
- Restricted interests
- Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.) Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors
Use the Checklist – If you think your child has autism, the first place to start is to answer the 20 questions in the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised (M-CHAT-R). It’s intended for toddlers between 16 and 30 months of age. The results will let you know if a further evaluation may be needed and give you a starting point to discuss with your child’s healthcare provider.
Early intervention is key – If your child exhibits delayed speech, she does not need a diagnosis to benefit from early therapy. Using Gemiini for early intervention can accelerate language, cognitive, social, emotional, and motor skill development. Importantly, regular early therapy starts your child on a learning path during the two critical years before kindergarten.