Autism officially entered our family life 4 years ago, when our son turned 3 years old. Our daughter was also diagnosed with autism a year later, when she turned 2. In a way, it has seemed to us that autism crept up on us by surprise but in fact, it actually happened gradually, and began 2 years prior to our son's diagnosis, when he was only 1 year old. We were oblivious to the symptoms, running away from the truth that later confronted us.
Follow the period of shock and denial, like all parents, we went looking for causes and possible cures. Then, remorse and guilt haunted our minds with questions such as: "What if we would have seen it earlier? What if we would have had a list of symptoms to compare to?" There was so many "What if...?" questions that we could torture ourselves eternally. What we should have done was to look for the common symptoms of autism. Here are the symptoms, which I share with you, dear parents.
- A lack of closeness with family members may be a symptom of autism. Children with autism tend to be affectionate on their own terms. If they want your affection, they will accept it; otherwise you can be rejected. It seems like they have to accept your touch to receive it.
- Having difficulty interacting with his peers. A child with autism may prefer parallel play or imitation as the type of interaction that is considered acceptable on his terms. Verbal communication is difficult as introducing himself, sharing his desires, his feelings and his ideas are not skills that he has acquired.
- Gradually losing his speech can be another sign of autism spectrum disorder. Your child may have difficulty expressing himself, which increases his frustration levels, and can lead to a meltdown when overwhelmed.
- Poor gross and fine motor skills as well as a low muscle tone can also be symptoms of autism. Crawling, walking, cutting and other activities require both gross and fine motor skills. Autistic children can sometimes be labeled as developmentally delayed.
- Playtime is used differently as a child with autism will line up toys, create patterns with various objects or draw complex mazes instead of playing with toys the conventional way. This is another symptom of autism.
- Your child lives in his own world a bit in the way that another child enjoys the possibilities of his imagination. Your child may prefer loneliness and enjoy himself watching television or a movie, rocking himself or simply making up sounds. When in his world, he will not let anyone get in his world.
- Certain sounds and visual effects can entertain or calm him for hours. Spinning objects can occupy your child for hours. White static sounds such as a radio or the baby monitor off channel would calm our son and put him to sleep when he was a baby.
- Hypersensitive issues can also be a symptom of autism. It can be food, clothing, noises, bite sizes, etc. Our son cannot eat certain foods if they are in a sandwich and you cannot see them well or he will not eat pizza if other toppings are together (so only cheese pizza is acceptable). Our daughter has difficulty dealing with humming noises such as a refrigerator or a freezer in a grocery store. She can also choke easily if the bites that she takes feel too big.
- Processing of information can be slower and literal which can lead to confusion, frustration and distress. For example, if you ask our daughter a question in a different way, she will be confused. Then she will hide, thinking you are disappointed in her because she could not understand and answer your question. Also, she has difficulty understanding expressions, as she is very literal. If you say, "It's raining cats and dogs," she will actually look for cats and dogs, which, of course, will be confusing.
- Short sleeping periods marked by a lot of interruptions can be a symptom of autism. Our son used to wake up 4 or 5 times every night, staying awake for long periods of time, being quite loud and of course, affecting everyone's quality of sleep, especially his own.
- Certain aches and pain are related to autism. Babies often have a hard time with their digestive system, often being mistaken with certain food allergies or intolerances such as milk products and gluten. In some cases, seizures have also been linked to autism.
Of course, as every child is different, symptoms can vary and will not all necessarily apply to your child's situation. While other symptoms may not be listed, this list is composed of the main symptoms of autism or the most common ones. If you see three or more of these symptoms, I encourage you to see your family doctor or even obtain a referral to see a specialist. This list also represents the various symptoms that helped us discover our children's diagnosis and understand it better. In any case, this list may help you out as it would have helped us had we known about it before meeting the specialist and facing what was a shocking and heartbreaking diagnosis. This list would have helped us prepare ourselves for the diagnosis.
As a teacher and a mother, I did not want to label our son, but I must admit that following his diagnosis, and later on, identifying the all-too-familiar symptoms, it helped us to identify our daughter's autism early. This also helped us to get her the services that she needed in order to grow and progress. Unfortunately, some of these services were too late for our older son as we did not know the symptoms and did not identify the needs of our child sooner, as our family doctor did not catch it either, telling us that time may help.
Either way, this list of symptoms can only help you make up your mind and seek the help needed for your child in order to obtain the services as soon as possible. Don't be late helping out your child as his progress may depend on it!