More Characteristics

As you learned before, the Autism spectrum consists of many different traits or ways the brain processes information; these traits can create strengths in some areas and difficulties in others, ranging in severity depending on the task and situation.

Other Traits and Co-Occurring Challenges

  • Medical – epilepsy, gastrointestinal issues, or sleep disorders
  • Developmental – language delay or intellectual disability
  • Behavioral Health – anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression

Related: Why Early Intervention is Important

Early detection means earlier access to intervention

Research shows that early diagnosis of autism is more likely to have major, long-term, positive effects on symptoms and later skills. Some Autistic children whose development appears typical up to the age of 2-3 years can begin to regress. In this period, a young child’s brain is still forming, meaning it is more “plastic” or changeable than at older ages. Because of this plasticity, intervention has a better chance of being effective in the longer term. Early interventions not only give children the best start possible but also the best chance of developing to their full potential.

Early intervention programs often include:

  • Family training
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Hearing or visual impairment services
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutrition services
  • Behavior intervention

How to distinguish an autistic child from other typically developing children (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021)

Many Autistic children show developmental differences when they are babies—especially in their social and language skills. Because they usually sit, crawl, and walk on time, less obvious differences in the development of body gestures, pretend play, and social language often go unnoticed.

These are some examples that may help a parent tell the difference between normal developmental milestones and early signs of ASD. Keep in mind: this list is not a diagnostic tool, and no one Autistic child will have exactly the same symptoms as another.

  • A child with typical development will turn their head when they hear their name
  • An Autistic child might not turn to look, even when their name is repeated several times, but will respond to other sounds
  • A child with delayed speech skills will point, gesture, or use facial expressions to make up for their lack of talking
  • An Autistic child might make no attempt to compensate for delayed speech, or might limit speech to repeating what they hear on TV or what they just heard.
  • A child with typical development might bring a picture to show their mother, and share their joy from it with her
  • An Autistic child might be more likely to bring their mom an item they need assistance with; if they do present a picture, they might not make eye contact or outwardly react to her praise/joy.

Racial and Ethical Gaps in Identification

These findings, among 8-year-olds, may indicate that efforts to promote ASD identification are working, but also suggest that more can be done to improve ASD identification, particularly among Hispanic children. Studies have shown that stigma, lack of access to healthcare services, and non-English primary language are potential barriers to identification of Autism, especially among Hispanic children. In short, more work is needed to improve identification of ASD within Hispanic communities.

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