We worry from the moment we find out that we are pregnant that our babies will be ok.
It’s natural to want a happy and healthy child. To somehow always be able to give them the best guidance and opportunities. We want to raise them well and give them everything we can.
We find ourselves watching every little quirk or expression our child makes hoping that they will be well adjusted young people. Parenting has no manual, so the best you can hope for is an easy child, right?
One of the unknowns that parents can worry about is whether or not their child will be autistic.
Here are some early signs that your child may be autistic, as well as some guidance on what to do if they are.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
What we used to just call autism is now recognised as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Every person with autism has unique strengths and abilities as well as unique challenges.
This means that different people are affected differently by their condition, and may vary greatly in how they experience their symptoms. They will also vary greatly in how much help and support they need to manage their condition.
Around 1 in 70 Australians is diagnosed with autism. Autism does run in families, but it can also come out of the blue, so you may have a child on the spectrum even with no family history of the disorder. It is more prevalent in boys, with around 3 to 4 boys diagnosed with autism to every girl.
According to Autism Spectrum Australia, it is a lifelong developmental condition. The effects tend to present in two main areas – social communication (including social skills, difficulty with speech and nonverbal communication) and repetitive patterns of behaviour.
People suffering from autism also often have sensory sensitivities. They also often have mental health concerns which happen at the same time including anxiety, depression and attention issues, and some physical concerns including gastrointestinal disorders, seizures and sleep disorders.
People with autism can usually have their symptoms managed with care, support and intervention to help.
It helps to identify Autism early
Recognising that your child is on the autism spectrum as early as possible will help you to understand them and connect with them, supporting your child appropriately through their development.
Early intervention also helps significantly with brain development, social skills, behaviour and learning – so identifying that your child is on the spectrum as soon as possible is quite important.
Signs that a child is on the Autism Spectrum
If you aren’t familiar with people on the Autistic spectrum, you may worry about some of your child’s actions and behaviour.
If your child is on the Autism spectrum, when he is around two or three he will usually show indicators of this. Some children are diagnosed when they are as young as 18 months.
How can you tell if your child has autism?
Because we see the effects of autism in social communication and behaviour, it can take a little while for your child to show these. You may not know for several years that they are struggling in these areas, especially if they are lower on the spectrum.
Autistic people struggle with signs and social markers that usually start to show up from when they are six months of age onwards.
If your child is missing one or two of these social markers this doesn’t automatically indicate they have autism. Some children bloom later than others, and some of these markers don’t show up until closer to two years of age.
According to the Autism Awareness Centre, the following can be signs that your child has autism spectrum disorder:
- She/He have trouble making eye contact with you
- They don’t engage in any social smiling or social babbling
- They don’t respond to their name
- He/She don’t show signs of social anticipation like raising their arms to be picked up or playing peek a boo
- They display poor visual tracking, such as not following a toy with their eyes if you move it
- They may have a fixation on unusual objects like the fan or patterns in the ceiling or floor.
If you notice more than one of these behaviours in your child, it may be best to seek another opinion.
Talk to your maternal and child health nurse about your concerns, or make an appointment with your family doctor.
How does having a child with autism affect you as a parent?
How much having an autistic child will affect you as a parent depends on a number of things, including the severity of their condition, how early the condition is diagnosed, and your support network and resources in helping them. It also depends on your openness and positivity regarding the condition.
The way an autistic child behaves in any situation is serving a purpose for them and probably trying to communicate something to you. The key is to work out what this purpose or message is.
Children on the spectrum may struggle with physical connection such as hugs and snuggles. They may struggle to communicate with you and may use non-verbal gestures inappropriately, including lack of eye contact, pointing, and making noises.
They may also become easily stressed by changes in routine and may suffer from meltdowns. These reactions can be exhausting and frustrating for a parent, especially if you can’t relate to what they’re going through, or if these incidences happen in public.
If you show love and patience this will help you parent. But because children with autism struggle with relationships, they may not be always be able to reciprocate these feelings. You can receive great help if you have others around you who understand what you’re going through (this is the case with all parenting, really).
Having friends, family or group supports who understand parenting an autistic child can just help you vent when you need to.
Parenting with Autism: Quick Tips to Help
Early identification helps, so if you notice that your child has one or more of the indicators of autism, you should get a medical opinion on the matter.
Seek support from groups and other parents of autistic children, through resources such as Amaze and Aspect.
There are some great links here:
Have patience with your family and friends who may not understand your child – not everybody gets what you’re going through.
And always good advice for any parent – look after yourself first. If you exhaust yourself you can’t look after anyone else well. Also try to get enough rest, eat well, get fresh air and exercise. Spend time alone as well with other grown-ups who help you relax. Here are some other self care tips that may help.