The cause of autism, though still a mystery, is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Autism is thought to develop sometime during pregnancy and the first three years of life (early-onset autism) or, as in regressive or late-onset autism, some children appear to have developed normally until 12-24 months before losing skills.
It is critical that attention is given to early markers that could potentially identify those children who are at high-risk for developing autism. These markers can be both developmental and medical in nature. Early markers could help identify the “vulnerable child” and could allow parents and physicians to limit further environmental exposures while also tracking development.
In children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), these early signs often present in clusters but can be very difficult to recognize. Symptoms can easily be misunderstood and therefore may be overlooked by parents and underreported to physicians. Additionally, since some of the symptoms can be episodic, a physician is unlikely to observe them in a well-baby visit, thereby decreasing the chance of further evaluation.
Although many of these “red flags” can be seen in the neurotypical (typically developing) child, it is the timing and combination of these symptoms that can be cause for concern. Essentially, this is the very reason why making an early diagnosis is so very difficult to do. Parents should be aware of the most common developmental signs and medical comorbidities so they can describe behaviors and symptoms to pediatricians and medical specialists. Always consult your pediatrician and ask for referrals to specialists such as neurologists, allergy/immunologists, gastroenterologists, speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists. Early intervention is imperative for a positive prognosis.
So what are these early signs and symptoms and what should you do if you suspect your child may be exhibiting them?
Neurodevelopmental Red Flags of Autism
Speech and language, eye contact, poor sleepers, repetitive behaviors, sensory processing, regulatory problems, maladaptive behaviors, and low muscle tone.
Sheri is a pediatric speech and language pathologist with over 25 years of clinical experience specializing in autism. She has published numerous articles on autism and shares her clinical expertise through writing and lecturing internationally. Sheri is passionate about treating the “whole child” through integrative medicine and is interested in research that examines the environmental causes of autism. As a consultant to FFH, Sheri contributes her clinical knowledge and management experience to help develop and carry out the mission of the Focus for Health Foundation. She has been featured on CBS News, NBC News, NJN and multiple Cable networks.