As parents, we want what is best for our children, and want to help them grow into the best people they can be – autism in babies can frighten us into inaction. It is our job to worry about our kids, and is a sign of a great mom or dad to notice subtle changes in a baby’s behavior. Catching autism early and acting on these signs can benefit your child in amazing ways over the course of their life.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cannot be cured, yet it shouldn’t be interpreted as an illness or a burden – as many advocates state, it is a difference rather than a disease. Many children and adults live happy and fulfilling lives, and have formed vibrant communities around their diagnosis. Yet the diagnosis isn’t one to be taken lightly – waiting for a child to “catch up” can reduce the efficacy of early intervention.
An autism diagnosis can be scary at first, but is also something that can be managed. Many people who live with autism celebrate their neurodiversity. As a parent, you can’t change their diagnosis, but you can give them the tools that they need to be successful. Acting early on developmental concerns with your child has proven to be the best path towards long-term outcomes.
If you’re worried about an autism diagnosis in your baby, or not sure where to turn with a positive diagnosis, read on.
Signs to Look for in Babies with Autism
Babies with ASD can present many different symptoms, but babies without ASD can often present the same symptoms. Only a clinician can make a diagnosis, but consider scheduling an appointment if your baby exhibits several of these signs:
- Loss of language milestones between 16 and 24 months
- Minimal or no eye contact
- Won’t respond to facial expressions
- Doesn’t point at objects or respond to pointing
- Doesn’t say single words by 16 months of age
- Disinterest in socialization or making friends
- Flapping hands, rocking, spinning, or swaying
Many comprehensive guides exist outlining the exact milestones that children should be hitting during their development – this represents only a partial list, and is by no means comprehensive.
Why Early Intervention in Autism is Important
A baby’s developing brain is the most “plastic” during the first three years of life. This period of development forms the foundation for long-term behavior, learning, and health – after the brain has moved out of this stage of development, it becomes considerably more difficult to change. A child’s developmental trajectory can change dramatically when quality care is presented during this stage of life. When ignored, it can become more difficult to manage.
Early intervention is more effective and less expensive during this period of life. By minimizing potential developmental delay, babies who receive early care may not require special education later in life.
What Does Early Intervention for Autism Look Like in Babies?
There is no one standard treatment for ASD. Depending on the symptoms present in a baby or toddler, early intervention will vary from child to child. It may include speech therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, or other types of services that match with their diagnosis.
Early intervention generally starts around 2 or 3 years of age, but recent guidelines suggest starting as soon as ASD is diagnosed. Because no two cases of autism are exactly alike,
Finding a Community
In Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon writes: “all parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves.” A developmental diagnosis throws a wrench into our expectations of who are children are and what they can become, but the resources exist to help your child be happy and successful in life.
Children with autism may experience challenges in the classroom and the community. But in truth, most children experience these issues at one point or another.
One of the best things that you can do as a parent is to find members in your community to relate with. Adults living with autism can provide great insight into their own struggles and experiences, and parents with autistic children can offer you valuable information about their own strategies.
If you suspect your child has autism, you are not alone. Seeking a diagnosis and proper therapies can help steer your child in the right direction, and give you the confidence to know that their life can be filled with joy rather than frustration.