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March 10, 2011 at 1:00 PMComments: 4 Faves: 0

Autism: Know the Signs

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This Author

Photo Credit: Cristiana Gasparotto@flickr

In America, it is estimated that for every 100 babies born, 1 will be born different.

At first, this baby will appear like all the other 99 smiling, cooing babies. However, as they get older, normally around 2 years of age, the difference will become clearer. Their parents may notice they are behind the normal social/communicative milestones for their age. Then again, their variance may be mistaken for a normal personality difference throughout their entire life. The difference affecting this child is highly personal, ranges in severity, and often goes undetected.

This difference is autism.

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disability which occurs when a neurological disorder affects areas of social interaction and communication in the brain. While the root cause has not been proven definitively, there is strong evidence that it is at least partly genetic. When people talk about autism, they often talk about the autism spectrum.

In actuality, autism is an umbrella term for several disorders, the most common of which are:

  • Autistic Disorder (Classic Autism): This person displays the common traits most people recognize as autism before age 3. They have trouble interacting and communicating with others, and do not participate in normal imaginative play. They also have particular repetitive behaviors, interests and activities that are stereotypically autistic. While most develop some language others may remain mute. They may have a below-average IQ.
  • Asperger's Disorder: Children with this autism spectrum disorder are those that most frequently go undiagnosed. That is because while the severity of Asperger's varies, it is generally a mild and high-functioning form of autism. The main difference between Classic Autism and Asperger's is language and IQ. While many classically autistic people will only ever have a small vocabulary and may have a low IQ, those with Asperger's may exhibit language skills and IQ that are actually above average. Their main trouble is with social, not language development. People with Asperger's may seem socially awkward, may not understand social rules and they may avoid eye contact. They have trouble understanding the subtleties of language like gestures and irony.
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS): A person with PDD-NOS has what is referred to as "atypical autism." They may not meet the specific criteria needed for a diagnosis of Classic Autism or Asperger's, but their impairment in the areas of social interaction and communication is severe and pervasive.

Know the Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of Autism and identifying it early are the best ways to ensure an autistic child receives the care they require. The majority of autistic individuals can improve their quality of life with the right approach.

Here are the red flags to watch for in infancy and some of the most common signs of autism as individuals get older. Keep in mind that Autism varies greatly from person to person. They may have all or some of these symptoms. Those they do have may cause great problems or hardly affect them at all. Keep in mind, that having symptoms does not necessarily mean having autism. If you suspect autism however, please consult your doctor.

RED FLAGS Signs that should prompt a screening with your doctor

  • No big smiles by or after 6 months of age
  • No back and forth sharing of sounds or expressions by or after 9 months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back and forth gestures (pointing, waving) by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • Without imitating or repeating, no two-word phrases by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling, or social skills at any age.

Behavioral Differences

  • Inappropriate eye contact, too little or too much
  • Unusual expression or posture
  • Trouble taking turns
  • Obsessive interests
  • Delayed motor development, trouble with sports, awkward walk, poor handwriting
  • Notably over or under-sensitive to stimuli, may easily notice small changes in sounds or visuals
  • Repetitive behaviors, rocking, hand flapping, hair twirling, preoccupation with parts of an object
  • Seems uncomfortable in their own skin
  • Sleep problems
  • May try and compensate for awkwardness by implementing rigid guidelines, behaviors like forcing eye contact.
  • Very scheduled -dislikes any changes in routines

Communication Difference

  • Tendency to speak AT rather than WITH other people
  • Trouble recognizing changes in tone and pitch which alter a word's meaning
  • May take sarcasm literally, and tend toward gullibility
  • A formal style of speaking that is advanced for their age, for example: Says "beckon" rather than "call."
  • Repetitive speech pattern, repeats words or phrases
  • Trouble starting or maintaining conversations

Social Differences

  • Trouble picking up social cues and rules
  • Trouble reading body language
  • Seems to lack empathy

The Best Traits of Autistic People

An autism diagnosis doesn't mean a life of just "getting by." Autistic people can and do live ordinary, even extraordinary lives. In fact, there are many famous people believed to be autistic: Albert Einstein, Virginia Woolf, Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, and Vincent Van Gogh just to name a few. Sometimes weakness can be become strength when rightly applied.

Here are some of the best common traits among autistic people.

  • They rarely lie. Like it or not, the autistic individual has a tendency to tell it like it is.
  • They live in the moment. Autistic people are great at taking in their surroundings; a state of mindfulness comes naturally to them.
  • They aren't judgmental. Autistic people have a knack for seeing beyond appearances, status, and labels to find the person inside.
  • They're passionate. What one might call obsession, another calls passion. Autistic people tend to be passionate about their interests, ideals, and favorite people.
  • They're true to themselves. Autistic people don't care much for trends and they're not worried about "keeping up with the Joneses'. They like what they like.
  • They have good memories. Because autistic people are more cued into details than most, they are better at remembering them.
  • They're less materialistic. They're not concerned with impressing people, so they're not worried about buying name brands or other status symbols.
  • They have fewer hidden agendas. Autistic people don't like to beat around the bush. When they tell you what they want, it's not a test.
  • They give their "average" neurotypical friends a new perspective. Here's a quote from the mom of an autistic boy. "For some of us neurotypicals, having an autistic person in our lives has had a profound positive impact on our perceptions, beliefs and expectations. For me, at least, being the mom of a son on the autism spectrum has released me from a lifetime of "should" -- and offered me a new world of "is.""


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  • You should not say that autistic people are less materialistic. They want whatever is popular at the time whether it be a game or toy or clothes. You should really change the above. Also, it is important that parents do dress their special needs child with current fashion/styles in order to make them more approachable for making friends.

  • Pamela,

    Autistic children do tend to be less concerned with how others perceive them - and this, in my opinion, is a very good thing! When we succumb to the pressure to fit in, we risk losing part of what makes us special - something that has very little to do with our clothes and possessions. Autistic children are blessed with a unique gift for seeing beyond such superficial things and being true to themselves.

    However, you make a good point. This is not to say parents should provide and less for an autistic child than they would for a child without autism! Just like any other child, autistic children enjoy looking good and playing with the latest toys. They are just more likely to appreciate them for what they are, rather than the "trendiness" of the item.

  • I'm just learning so much now about autism I just stared careing for my cuz

  • Tina-

    Doctors are still learning a lot about autism too! It's great that you're doing research for you cousin. :) You know, if you have any questions on caring for an autistic child, you should ask them in the autism spectrum group: .

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