Is my child autistic? (Does my child have autism?)

autism_childrenYou may have the feeling that your child or someone you know may “have autism”.

Autism Rights Watch wants to help and to provide you with clear information on autism and on the early signs of autism in infants and toddlers.

Does my child have autism often is the very first question young parents ask us. The short answer is no. A person does not “have autism” per say. Autism Rights Watch does not view autism as a disease that must be “cured” or prevented. Yet, an autistic person or a person (child or adult) “on the autism spectrum” may have lifelong developmental particularities, known as “Pervasive Developmental Disorders”. With adequate education and proper support early on, the vast majority of persons on the autism spectrum can develop to their fullest potential.

A tentative definition of Pervasive Developmental Disorders

“Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASD), more formally known as “Pervasive Developmental Disorders” (“PDD”), is viewed, by health professionals, as a range of lifelong, non-progressive neurological disorders appearing in early childhood. The origins currently are unknown, except in a few cases linked to genetic factors. The World Health Organization defines Pervasive Developmental Disorders, under the code F84 of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision (ICD 10), as “a group of disorders characterized by qualitative abnormalities in reciprocal social interactions and in patterns of communication, and by a restricted, stereotyped, repetitive repertoire of interests and activities. These qualitative abnormalities are a pervasive feature of the individual’s functioning in all situations.” PDD includes several diagnoses, such as “Childhood Autism” and “Asperger Syndrome”. PDD is found co-morbid with many genetics and environmental disorders such as X-Fragile, ADD, ADHD, Intellectual Disability, Epilepsy, etc.
In short, the common challenges of classical autism are known as the “autism triad”:

challenges in social interaction,
challenges in communication and the use of language,
repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour and activities,

However, persons on the autism spectrum should not be reduced to “disorders”, “diagnoses” and “impairments”.

The symptoms and characteristics of PDD come in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. Although autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and adults can exhibit any combination of the behaviors in any degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act very differently from one another and have varying skills.

Instead, ASD should be viewed as a feature of the person and as a form of neuro-developmental particularity in children and adults. Each person on the spectrum has his/her personality, skills and challenges. As with any other individual, a person on the autism spectrum need an adequate education, appropriate support and to be socially included to nurture his/her skills to achieve full potential and to address his/her challenges. Person living on the autism spectrum often are honest, passionate, hard worker with a great memory, and sometimes astonishing talents (e.g. music, computers, poetry, etc).

Early signs of autism in infants and toddlers

Autism is far more common that most people think. Recent epidemiologic data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that 1 in 88 children have autism.

While there are many possible explanations for most of the symptoms listed below, each of the following symptoms could be a sign of Autism in infants and toddlers:

No big smiles or other joyful expressions by six months,
No babbling by 1 year of age,
No finger pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 1 year of age,
No words by 16 months,
Does not combine two words phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 2 years,
Does not respond to name,
Poor eye contact,
Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age,
Is attached to a particular toy or object,
Is very attached to routines (e.g. excessively lines up toys or other objects),
Doesn’t seem to know how to play or doesn’t start games on his/her own,
At times seems to be hearing impaired,

If you are in doubt, seek advice from your general practitioner or your pediatrician who will be able to evaluate your child and to screen him/her for autism.

Not always correlated to poor verbal skills and intellectual needs

Autism comes in many forms with or without impact on language skills and intelligence. Some children with Asperger Syndrome have excellent language and intellectual skills. Yet, research consensus suggests that the odds of autism are much higher for kids who are non-verbal or who have intellectual needs. Kids should always be evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorders when they are found to be non-verbal or to have poor verbal skills and/or intellectual needs.