The Grapevine

Identifying Signs Of Autism: Disorder Affects 1 in 59 US Children

The number of autism cases in the U.S. has increased, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published on April 26. 

1 in 59 children in the country had autism in 2014, indicating a rise in prevalence when compared to 1 in every 68 children which was the estimated figure in 2012. However, the new report may also suggest a rise in awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which has helped more children get diagnosed.

Since it is a spectrum disorder, the symptoms of the disorder can range from mild to extreme, making it difficult to identify early signs. Usually, a screening by a pediatrician is followed by a possible diagnosis of ASD with the help of autism experts, observation of the child, medical tests and more. One may consider a visit if the following signs are exhibited to a concerning degree:

1. Taking up repetitive behavior

Echolalia, a condition where one excessively repeats the same word or phrase, is considered a common sign in autistic children. Repetitive body movements may include clapping their hands, rocking their body, or spinning in circles.

According to research, such behavior occurs because they tend to over-activate the brain's reward system. In general, children on the spectrum may adopt certain obsessive interests and "ritualistic" behavior such as playing with a toy the exact same way every time.

2. Problems with communication

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), autistic children may experience "uneven progress" in their language skills. For example, some may develop language abilities at a young age but then lose them later. The usage of pronouns may also become confusing for the child. For instance, when they mean to say "I", they might say "you" instead.

"Often, children with ASD who can speak will say things that have no meaning or that do not relate to the conversations they are having with others," the NIH states on their website. In addition to verbal communication problems, they may also struggle with using gestures, staying on topic, identifying sarcasm or responding to social cues. 

3. Social withdrawal and extreme reactions

Autistic children may not be able to respond to their name even by their first birthday. Social withdrawal is another possible red flag as they may avoid eye contact and prefer to be alone most of the time. Physical contact can also be very difficult for them to handle, leading them to avoid it or have extreme reactions to it.

As they get older, they may lack the ability to understand other people's emotions and feelings, which in turn can contribute to unintended social problems.

4. Distress due to change

"Change, especially unexpected change, can be extremely stressful for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)," explained Dr. Karen Barnes, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children's Hospital in Washington.

"Children with ASD often prefer to have a sense of structure and to know what to expect during the day and what activity they will be doing and when," she added. Spontaneous change or disruption of routine can cause outbursts, meltdowns, and even panic attacks.