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How to Detect Signs of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined as a developmental disability that impacts the ability to communicate and interact with others. When detecting signs of ASD, it is best to assess early in order to discuss with your learner’s doctor about an official screening for ASD and accessing early intervention services. In this blog post, I will be listing the characteristics of ASD when assessing your learner.

When assessing for signs of ASD, there are different categories to search into. The first is to check the learner’s level of social communication and interaction skills. The following below are lists of characteristics when assessing early signs in young learners. When monitoring your learner, keep note if your learner is experiencing the following deficits in social communication and interaction:

  • Avoids or does not keep eye contact
  • Does not respond to name by 9 months of age
  • Does not show facial expressions like happy, sad, angry, and surprised by 9 months of age
  • Does not play simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by 12 months of age
  • Uses few or no gestures by 12 months of age (for example, does not wave goodbye)
  • Does not share interests with others by 15 months of age (for example, shows you an object that they like)
  • Does not point to show you something interesting by 18 months of age
  • Does not notice when others are hurt or upset by 24 months of age
  • Does not notice other children and join them in play by 36 months of age
  • Does not pretend to be something else, like a teacher or superhero, during play by 48 months of age
  • Does not sing, dance, or act for you by 60 months (about 5 years) of age

Along with assessing the learner’s social communication and interaction skills, you will also monitor if the learner has restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. The following list includes characteristics of restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests that are related to ASD:

  • Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when order is changed
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (called echolalia)
  • Plays with toys the same way every time
  • It is focused on parts of objects (for example, wheels)
  • Gets upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Must follow certain routines
  • Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Throughout my experience in ABA, I have observed some of the following repetitive behaviors with my young learners. When one of my young learners started services, my supervisor and I observed how she would line up her toys in a particular order and would repeat back what we have said especially questions. With another one of my young learners, he would flap his hands whenever he was excited.

Other signs to monitor for signs of ASD may include:

  • Delayed language skills
  • Delayed movement skills
  • Delayed cognitive or learning skills
  • Hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behavior
  • Epilepsy or seizure disorder
  • Unusual eating and sleeping habits
  • Gastrointestinal issues (for example, constipation)
  • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
  • Anxiety, stress, or excessive worry
  • Lack of fear or more fear than expected

With parents I have worked with previously they have mentioned their observations of their young child having limited language skills. They mentioned that when their child was an infant he did not babble around the average developmental milestone, which is between 4 to 6 months.

If you are noticing your learner experiencing multiple signs related to ASD, the next step is to discuss with your learner’s doctor in order to initiate the process of screening for ASD.

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