Recognizing the Early Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Dr. “Ali” Alisha Griffith is an Autism Mom, Communication Expert (Audiologist and Speech Pathologist), Best Selling Author, IGNITE Coach and Transformational Speaker and Trainer. She provides coaching to teach individuals and caregivers how to become effective listeners, foster stronger relationships and get ignited and focused. 

Autism is a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. Autism spectrum disorder appears in infancy and early childhood, causing delays in many basic areas of development, such as learning to talk, play, and interact with others. It’s not always easy to identify the early signs of Autism, and many of us as parents or caregivers sometimes don’t want to welcome the chance that it may be present in our loved ones.

The signs and symptoms of autism vary widely, as do its effects. This is not intended to tell you that your child has Autism, but is more to serve as a helping guide to help detect whether or not they exhibit the symptoms. Some of the key signs and symptoms that are consistent among most children on the spectrum are problems:

  • Issues communicating verbally and non-verbally
  • Issues relating to others and the world around them
  • Problem thinking and behaving flexibly

Step 1: Follow your intuition

Some of the first signs Dr. Griffith noticed with her own child, Zachary, was that he was constantly switching lights back and forth. He was constantly staring at the trees. He would line his trains up and look at them with the sides of his eyes. He would not let her touch him for very long. He would look away quickly when she made eye contact with him. In groups, he would not socialize much with other children when they were around. Other signs she noticed included flapping of the hands, spinning in circles or just not being able to sit still for long. She also noted that delayed language or no language at all is a big indicator.

Dr. Griffith went through the common phases of denial, not believing that her child could possibly have Autism. She would try to sway his behaviors and try to regulate what he was doing to try to disarray from all of the signs lining up together. In her own way, she knew something else was going on. Being an audiologist, speech pathologist, but more importantly a mom, she knew something else was going on.

Common restricted and repetitive behaviors

  • Hand flapping
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Spinning in a circle
  • Finger flicking
  • Head banging
  • Staring at lights
  • Moving fingers in front of the eyes
  • Snapping fingers
  • Tapping ears
  • Scratching
  • Lining up toys
  • Spinning objects
  • Wheel spinning
  • Watching moving objects
  • Flicking light switches on and off
  • Repeating words or noises

Step 2: What are you seeing? Start documenting this down and then research. 

Dr, Griffith recommends monitoring your child’s development for any developmental delays and if they are hitting the key social, emotional and cognitive milestones. While this doesn’t always point directly to Autism, these signs may indicate a higher risk. She believes the best way to monitor progress is by documenting the signs that seem irregular and then doing your research. Are they showing 4 or 5 symptoms on the list? This will raise your awareness that something more is going on. Educating yourself is the best way to acknowledge whether or not the signs and symptoms your child is exhibiting are normal or not.

 

Signs of Inflexibility

  • Follows a rigid routine (e.g., insists on taking a specific route to school)
  • Has difficulty adapting to any changes in schedule or environment (e.g., throws a tantrum if the furniture is rearranged or bedtime is at a different time than usual)
  • Unusual attachments to toys or strange objects such as keys, light switches, or rubber bands. Obsessively lines things up or arranges them in a certain order.
  • Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest, often involving numbers or symbols (e.g., memorizing and reciting facts about maps, train schedules, or sports statistics)
  • Spends long periods watching moving objects such as a ceiling fan, or focusing on one specific part of an object such as the wheels of a toy car
  • Repeats the same actions or movements over and over again, such as flapping hands, rocking, or twirling (known as self-stimulatory behavior, or “stimming”). Some researchers and clinicians believe that these behaviors may soothe children with autism more than stimulate them.

Step 3: Make an appointment: 

 When it comes to assessing healthy development, it’s important to remember there’s a wide range of what is considered normal.  It’s crucial to remember that children develop at different paces, and some are a bit later than others to walk or talk. If you feel as if you’re concerned that your child isn’t meeting milestones, or is exhibiting symptoms of delayed development, the best way to ease your mind is to seek a professional opinion. Go book an appointment with a Pediatrician or a general practitioner. Dr. Ali Griffith recommends going to developmental pediatricians if they are available. “Get a second or third opinion to get some answers to get some confirmation in the direction you’re going. If you’re still not happy, go get physiological testing done. They’re the ones that can really give you a full array of tests to let you know what is happening. The key is… knowing is half the battle.” says Griffith..”