Christopher was 3 years old when it happened.
He acted different, played with toys in his own way, and seemed out of touch with the world around him and I didn’t know WHY. After an evaluation, my world went completely upside down.
He was autistic.
Looking back at the years prior to this bombshell, the phrase “If only I had known…” keeps popping up. So many frustrations would have been quelled.
I wish I had paid more attention to the early signs of autism, because I could have gotten him help a LOT sooner. The earlier autism is caught, the bigger impact the treatments have on successfully providing life-changing skills he will use forever.
Here in Wisconsin, they have a program called Birth to Three. Your doctor will be able to refer you to local early intervention programs if necessary.
Autism is like a puzzle.
You have to look at all the pieces and figure out how they fit together. Your doctor will rely on you knowing the pieces he’s looking for in order to give your child the proper testing and evaluation to provide a diagnosis.
So today we’re going to look at some of those pieces. Before we do though, let’s take a deep breath.
These snapshots are meant to help you see possible patterns and then bring that information to your pediatrician for evaluation. They are not meant to add extra worry or stress. Remember, knowledge is power!
This is by no means an inclusive list! It’s a “let’s get the conversation started” kind of list.
Make a note of what the early signs are (or let The Milestone Marker do it for you) and then bring those to the attention of your doctor.
Early Signs of Autism #1
Watch your baby for …
- doesn’t respond to their own name
- doesn’t turn their head to locate where sounds are coming from
As they grow, typically developing children will turn and respond to noise, a caregiver’s voice, etc. Usually by 6 months old, there will be some response from loud noises or talking.
Early Signs of Autism #2
Blooming a Little Too Late
Has your baby been LATE in meeting his developmental milestones? I know all kids grow at different rates, but most hit the major milestones (i.e rolling over, crawling, walking, etc.) within a reasonable amount of time.
My son crawled at 10 months old, got his first tooth at almost 9 months old, and started walking at 16 months old.
If your not sure what qualifies as “late” Heather’s ebook The Milestone Marker includes a wonderful checklist called “How to Spot a Delay” that is invaluable in knowing when it’s time to call the doctor.
Early Signs of Autism #3
A Little Too Perfect
“What a good baby!” they all say.
But sometimes that’s not a compliment. Babies who are a little too silent can be harboring signs of autism: keeping to themselves, no cooing, no facial expressions, no babbling, or talking.
My son was a good baby, who kept to himself. He had moments of facial expressions and some babbling, but the words were very limited – maybe 4 by the age of 18 months.
Early Signs of Autism #4
Focusing on the Wrong Things
Does your baby/toddler seem like he’s in his own little world…
- looks off in space
- doesn’t make eye contact
- doesn’t look for items you hide
- doesn’t notice or mind when caregiver leaves or return
- focuses on only visually stimulating toys, i.e lights, sounds, etc.
We got to the point in our house, before he was diagnosed, where we had to remove all battery operated toys because he would fixate on them and he never played with toys appropriately, i.e. pushed a truck on the floor making motor sounds, etc.
The toys he didn’t like to play with were the more “typical” toys like cars, stuffed animals, or doodle pads. They were too open ended, requiring imagination and spontaneity to play with. These frustrated him because he didn’t know when he was “done” with them.
The only exception to this would be toys that provide sensory input, like the penquin race, or squishy toys with lights in them.
Early Signs of Autism #5
Fixates on Things
This is similar to sign #4, except it goes beyond focus.
It’s fixating. Think of the word “focus” and then turn it up to 11.
- has to have things in a very specific way or order
- gives ALL his attention to items that entertain or draw the child in, i.e. videos, electronics, lights, music
- will often request for that item to be played or shown, over and over and over
This was just how our son was, he liked repetition and would throw fits if certain things weren’t set up exactly as before, i.e. toast had to be cut in triangles, not rectangles. He would also want Baby Einstein played over and over and over again.
Early Signs of Autism #6
Life is Like a Snow Globe
You know how you peer into a snow globe? Does your toddler approach life like he’s looking at a snow globe?
- Does he sit back and watch everything, but never jump in and participate?
- Does it seem like he doesn’t quite “fit in” with his peers at playgrounds, daycare, church, social settings, etc?
- In a group setting, will he sit alone somewhere in the room and let the kids play pretend and run around without him?
- Will his eyes gloss over a room full of toys and kids and drive him towards non-toy items like curtains to pull and play with?
- Does he seem to wander around a lot, not knowing what to do?
With my son, these were the consistent, heart-breaking moments for me as a mom.
We’d go to someone’s house for a playdate, and there my son would be, getting into things that weren’t toys or he would just be off alone in the corner staring at a certain toy or pushing buttons over and over on a toy. I confess there were many times I just got up and left because I was frustrated with him and embarrassed , grieved, and my heart couldn’t take seeing the “typical” kids in comparison to him.
I still struggle with this, although not as much. Initially I let his differences feed my grief and bitterness and lead me into depression. But through counseling, support group at the Autism Society, and my faith, I came to see my son’s strengths and focus on those instead.
I removed the word “normal” from our vocabulary and I chose to not see my son as a problem to be fixed.
Early Signs of Autism #7
Children showing the beginning signs of autism will have no interest in imitating you or others.
This can actually be a two-edged sword.
- On one hand, it’s sad because they won’t try to use the broom to sweep the floor like mommy.
- On the other hand, it can be positive, because they won’t jump all over the furniture like a sibling. 🙂
Even though they tend not to imitate the behaviors of those around them, it is very common for them to imitate movie conversations, book lines, and songs once their verbal skills have improved.
This is called echolalia, which means repeated speech.
My son is a Olympic medalist in this category… never imitated anything I did or my husband, but MAN can he quote movies and books like nobody’s business!
For the first 2 years of his “talking” it was all movie scripts. I remember hearing “You.. are… a toy, you are not the real Buzz Lightyear!” over and over and over again at 2 in the morning.
As hard as that was, there is a major benefit to echolalia. A child exhibiting those symptoms will have much he was able to learn language and thus communicate it back.
Not all kiddos exhibit echolalia, so don’t freak out if your little one doesn’t. Remember, these early signs are just snapshots! Your doctor will be able to put them altogether to get the big picture for a possible diagnosis.
Early Signs of Autism #7½
A Mother’s Intuition
I gave this a half not because it’s less important (in fact, it’s vitally important), but because it’s not something your doctor will be looking for in getting that Big Picture that can lead to a diagnosis. (If he does ask you about this – you’ve got a winning pediatrician!)
Trust your instincts.
Perhaps have have a suspicion based on one of the signs above.
Or maybe this has stirred up a few questions about a behavior your child is showing.
The best thing you can do is ASK, and the earlier you ask, the better off your child will be.
Surfing the Parenting Waves
Your job right now is to find that perfect balance on the waves of parenthood.
You don’t want to slip backwards and ignore possible signs of autism. You don’t want to just close your eyes and think happy thoughts and dreams…that kind of “head in the sand” approach won’t help anyone.
You also don’t want to push forward and start to panic over all the possibilities and worries that come with the word “autism”.
Remember, you don’t know anything yet. You are just looking at snapshots of possible signs.
Okay, if you see some things, or have questions, talk to a professional, a doctor, a teacher, and start investigating.
Don’t FREAK out! It is okay!
Autism is NOT a death sentence, you and your child will survive it!
It’s just a new “normal”.
A different path. A new adventure.
Do you know someone who has a child with autism? Have you noticed any of these signs in your toddler?
You aren’t alone. Share your comments below and be encouraged!
Have You Read These Yet?
- Dear Homemaker: Use These 70 Life-Hacks to Steal More Time
- 5 Things About Your Toddler’s Development That Will Surprise You
- 4 Proven Stress-Free Secrets to Bathing Your Baby and Toddler Together
- Surviving ’til Nap-Time: 10 Simple Toddler Activities to Entertain Your Tot
- Keeping Your Toddler Happy on the Plane (The Mary Poppins Way)
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Julie is married and lives with her husband and three sons in Wisconsin. She grew up with three sisters, so having three boys is quite an adjustment! She loves to dance and met her husband at swing dance lessons. She is a “Domestic Engineer” who loves the privilege of being home and desires that parents of autistic children would find support and help to encourage them on their new path. She loves the saying, “Different, not less”.