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Embracing Autism: How to Identify the Disorder Early

No parent dreams of courting the idea of a developmental disorder in their child, and yet, all too often, denial can cause more damage than early affirmation. With a disorder like autism, catching it sooner rather than later can have a massive positive impact on your child’s early development. Early treatment can go a long way in alleviating the effects of the condition, allowing your little one to blossom into their own little personality.

Understanding Autism

Autism comprises a number of disorders with closely related symptoms that span a spectrum of severity. Autism spectrum disorder, as it is otherwise known, typically manifests in infancy, impeding development and triggering delays in areas like talking, playing and social interactions. Because the disorder has such a wide array of signs and symptoms, its effects vary significantly, with some infants displaying only subtle setbacks, and others exhibiting more pronounced impairments. That said, a child with autism usually faces difficulty in three core areas:

  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Interaction with elements in their ecosystem
  • Flexible thinking and behaviour

Despite extensive research into the condition, there is still debate amongst medical experts as to the exact causes of and best possible treatments for autism. However, one undisputed fact remains; that early intervention is the best route for children with visible symptoms.

Causes of Autism

Until recently, autism was commonly believed to be influenced by genetic factors alone. However, new studies have shed light on possible environmental factors that could also play a role. It is now accepted that although babies may be born with a genetic predisposition towards autism, the condition could be triggered by environmental elements either before or after birth.

Some factors that are thought to increase the risk of autism include:

  • Consumption of antidepressants, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy
  • Nutritional deficiencies in early pregnancy, possibly due to low folic acid intake
  • Advanced age of mother or father
  • Complications during childbirth, like low birth weight or neonatal anaemia
  • Maternal infections during pregnancy
  • Exposure to pollutants like metals and pesticides.

Symptoms of Autism In Infants

As infants’ brains are more adaptable, early intervention can effect exhaustive, tangible results. While a definitive diagnosis for autism can be challenging before 24 months, the condition starts exhibiting symptoms from the one-year mark. By 18 months, these may be more apparent, and intensive intervention can aid in minimising symptoms and resetting the brain. It’s important to note that at the early stages, autism is characterised by the absence of normal milestones, and not necessarily by the existence of abnormal behaviour. In fact, quietness and independence, while they may be mistaken for traits of a good, undemanding child, are often earmarks of autism.

If you know what to look for, you can catch autism early. Here are some developmental indicators to watch out for, which merit an immediate consultation with your paediatrician:

6 Months

No smiles, cheerful expressions or other signs of warmth or joy.

9 Months

No smiles, sounds, gurgles or facial expressions; also no eye contact with parent or caregiver.

12 Months

No apparent response to their name, no gibberish or ‘baby talk’, no waving, reaching, pointing or imitated gestures.

16 Months

No attempt at spoken words.

24 Months

No two-word phrases spoken without imitation or repetition.

Early Treatment Measures for Autism

Early treatment for autism spectrum disorder is generally composed of measures pointed at improving communication skills, cognitive skills, daily living skills, motor movement, security awareness and behavioural cognizance. Treatment for infants is usually tailored to the exact severity of symptoms exhibited, and can help impart necessary tools required to purposefully partake in home, school and social activities.

If your child or a child dear to you showcases telltale signs of autism, it is important that you seek out help as soon as you can. By acting early, you can curb the effects of the condition and give your little one a chance at a fulfilling, healthy and happy life.

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