Autism in Babies – Symptoms, Screening and Treatment


Today’s post is about autism in babies – signs, early symptoms, screening and treatments available.

All of us would have heard a lot about kids or adults with Autism, a developmental disorder caused either during the pregnancy phase or within the first three years of life.

Autism in babies

On my way to work, while waiting for the cab, I waved goodbye to a sweet little girl at my apartment. She was about 7 years old, well mannered and disciplined. She was waiting for her school bus along with her 2 younger brothers. Later, I found that she goes to a special day care close to my apartment as she has a developmental disorder. Though she behaves a bit different from her brothers, she is one little cutie pie.

The rate of people with Autism has been increasing as per the US Federal Centre for Disease Control from 60 per 10000 kids in 1990 to 1 in 88 children in the year 2012. Now this is one reason as to why we chose autism as a topic to be discussed.

Autism in Babies and Kids:

As mentioned above, this is a developmental disorder that could affect the child’s ability to socially interact or communicate like other kids of his /her age. This could be even there from birth or within the first 3 years of life.

The kids would be a bit different in the way they sleep, eat and talk or for that matter for any of their day-to-day activities.

Initial screening of autism in babies and toddlers:

When we discuss the symptoms, I would like to request you not to panic at all.

The first time I read about Autism, I felt a bit confused. Kids are fussy at times and so don’t confuse yourself with the symptoms mentioned below.

The symptoms mentioned here comes from the autism checklist and it doesn’t mean that any of these symptoms showed once confirms autism in babies.

Most of the countries have a screening test for the kids by the age of 18 months. Though they don’t call it as the Autism test, the pediatricians are supposed to check whether the kid has achieved his milestones correctly.

If they find that there is a delay in the milestones being achieved rightly then they would recommend for an actual autism screen test.

Early symptoms and signs of autism in babies and kids: 

Following are the most common behavior symptoms of autism in babies, toddlers and kids.

An autistic toddler,

  • Won’t get along with other kids of his age or his siblings
  • Won’t notice what is happening around, even if guests or anyone else comes home
  • Won’t be comfortable getting kissed or hugged by parents
  • Won’t know how to hand lead as to show objects or toys
  • Won’t have eye contact
  • One of the most common symptoms noticed is lining up of things. It could be anything, may be his toys or any of the kitchen stuff
  • An unusual repetitive behavior is also found in a few cases – like staring at the ceiling fan for a long time, obsessively doing other stuffs like rocking himself, throwing stuffs etc
  • Motor developmental skills also could be an issue in some cases. Most of the kids with Autism lack the motor coordination and they might walk lately, or ride a tricycle much lately when compared to other kids
  • Might not adjust with the surrounding noises or music if it’s new to them
  • Might not respond at times
  • Head banging, pulling one’s own hair and self-biting are all additional symptoms noticed in a few cases
  • Won’t be aware about the fear factor and hence might not know what to be afraid of and what not to be. For e.g., they might not have any sense of fear for fire or height
  • Sleeping pattern won’t be regular. They might sleep throughout the night or might just be very cranky most of the times
  • Could be extremely sensitive to food and might be constipated at times or might have diarrhea or food that was not digested properly.
Checklist used in autism screening:

The mentioned checklist is based on UK’s HANS (Help Autism Now Society) and is now thoroughly being used in the UK. The child could be at Autism risk if he/she doesn’t do the following by about his 18 months screening.

  • Imagining or pretend play
  • Points objects to you while showing them
  • Looks in response while you show something or points out a toy or anything similar

Most of the other countries use similar checklists regarding this. I spoke to my cousin who gave me the list being used in Japan.

The parents are being asked the following questions at 18 months’ checkup.

The questions being:

  1. Does your child walk well without support?
  2. Does your child utter meaningful words such as ‘mama’ or ‘bye’?
  3. Can your child drink water by himself/herself from a cup?
  4. Is your child still drinking using a bottle?
  5. Do you give your baby meals and snacks at a generally set time?
  6. Does a parent or guardian give a thorough brushing for your child?
  7. Does your child appear to have strange eye movements or be overly sensitive to light?
  8. Does your child look back when you call him from behind?
  9. What activities your child likes to do?
  10. Is there anything about child raising that you find particularly difficult?

We find similar questions being asked by our pediatricians when we visit them for regular baby checkups.

The pediatricians look into the answers we provide for these questions and if they find that the child is lagging too much behind developments then they may suggest for further autism tests.

Treatment for autism in kids: 

The type of autism might vary from child to child and hence the treatment method chosen is different in each case.

The earlier we diagnose, the better treatment can be provided. Treatment could be in terms of improving the child’s overall ability and not complete cure.

The pediatricians or the experts try for the following steps to be achieved as a part of their treatment.

  • Better communication skills
  • Better motor co-ordination
  • Developing social skills to interact in a better way in a community
  • Teaching the parents on how to handle their child, how to be patient and how to get along in the social circle with ease
  • Better sleeping pattern

As already mentioned depending on the type, medications are also used. It’s said that there are up to 400 different types of treatments available nowadays for Autism.

A team including occupational therapists, speech therapists along with psychologists and developmental disorder experts work together for the best result.

In countries like US and other Western countries regular checkups and vaccinations are strictly followed and checked at the time when the child gets admission in school. Each checkup is mandatory and has to be followed strictly.

After visiting a few pediatricians in different cities in India, I can vouch that not every pediatrician does the regular checkup or checks the developmental milestones correctly. Just like in other countries, it would have been better if we had a milestone chart followed religiously by every pediatrician in our country.

Also studies have proved that taking prenatal tablets containing folic acid would reduce the risk of Autism to some extent.

Let’s do our part and remember every child is unique and precious.

Further reading:


Image credit: Beverly & Pack


About Author

A working mom who balances both her professional as well as personal life, Roshni tries to be a best friend to her 2 year old Lynette, fondly called as Linu. She along with her husband try to bring up their little one in the best possible way.

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