Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the development of the brain. Autism is also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There is not just one type of autism. A child with autism may experience challenges with social skills, making eye contact, repetitive behaviours, and trouble with speech. A child with autism may be non-verbal and never speak at all, or, may say some words then stop saying them, or may speak once in a while. The term “spectrum” reflects the fact that each child with autism may have one, or some, or all of these challenges.
It is a common misconception that children with autism are not affectionate, and prefer to be alone. The truth is many children with autism love to be around people, and to be kissed and hugged and chased and tickled. A well-known saying in the autism community is “if you have met one child with autism- you have met one child.” Each child possesses their own unique differences, strengths and challenges.
If you are a parent concerned that your child may have autism, you are doing the right thing by getting online and researching how to help your child. Many parents of children with autism are told by family, friends, sometimes even teachers or family doctors and others that love them that they shouldn’t worry… that “he/she is a late bloomer! Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4!” Autism is scary and it’s tempting to put your head in the sand and hope it will all be okay. The fact is, the earlier your child is diagnosed, the sooner you can get them the support they need, and the sooner you can learn how you and your family and friends can best support your child.
There is no medical exam or blood test that can diagnose autism, but there are definite signs that can flag an autism spectrum disorder. By observing those signs and examining a child’s behavior and development, doctors can make a diagnosis of autism and put you on the right path to help your child as quickly as possible.
Children reach developmental milestones at different times, but there are behaviours and lack of behaviours that can flag an autism spectrum disorder as early as 18 months. There are some developmental delays such as inability to make eye contact that can be identified and addressed even earlier than that. If your child is not making eye contact or smiling at their loved ones by 6 months of age, this could be a sign of autism. Here is a list of possible signs of autism in babies and toddlers from Autism Speaks Canada:
By 6 months:
By 9 months:
By 12 months:
By 12 months:
By 16 months:
By 24 months:
Parents of children with autism often say that they knew in their gut there was something to be concerned about. The earlier you can get help for your child the better, so if your child is not babbling, waving, smiling at you, responding to their name, or any of the other possible signs of autism, go to your doctor for a developmental screening to see if there are delays with the development of their basic skills. If your child is older and was saying words but then lost them, go to your doctor. If your doctor does not provide a developmental screening ask to be referred to one that does.
Autism can be diagnosed by your family doctor, a developmental pediatrician (doctors who have special training in child development and children with special needs) or by a child psychologist or psychiatrist.
Each province offers a different level of government funding and programs. You can find information for your province from this link: https://www.autismspeaks.ca/about-autism/what-is-autism/access-autism-services/.