Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects approximately 1 in 66 children and youth in Canada. Though this is often an emotional diagnosis, it’s important to understand that proper evaluation, intervention, and treatment can help those with autism greatly improve their ability to communicate, cope, and accomplish daily tasks. The earlier you can diagnose your child’s autism, the better you can navigate their early education. Here are a few essential steps if you suspect that your child may have ASD.
Review the Signs of Autism
If you’re concerned that your child may have autism, the first thing you should do is review the common signs and symptoms of this condition. This will help you understand whether the concerning behaviors that you’ve witnessed are consistent with autism or likely point to something else. Autism can cause young children to miss developmental milestones like:
- Responding to their name by 9 months of age.
- Showing emotions like surprise, happiness, and sadness through facial expressions by 9 months of age.
- Waving hello and goodbye and using other regular hand gestures by 12 months of age.
- Playing interactive games like pat-a-cake by 12 months of age.
- Pointing to objects of interest by 18 months of age.
- Noticing when others are upset by 24 months of age.
- Joining in play with other children by 36 months of age.
- Playing games of pretend, like chef or doctor by 48 months of age.
Young children with autism may exhibit other signs of this condition, such as:
- Avoiding eye contact.
- Making repetitive movements like rocking, spinning, or flapping their hands.
- Repeating the same phrases over and over.
- Reacting dramatically to smells, sounds, or tastes they don’t like.
- Demonstrating obsessive interests.
- Following strict routines.
- Arranging items like toys in a precise order and getting upset when the order is disrupted.
In older children, signs of autism may include:
- Unusual speech patterns like repetitive phrases.
- Having difficulty making friends.
- Struggling to articulate how they feel.
- Having a strict daily routine and getting very upset if things change.
- Having trouble understanding what others think or feel.
- Demonstrating an obsessive interest in an activity or subject.
Speak With Your Health Care Provider
Contact your child’s primary care provider and make an appointment to discuss your concerns. Your pediatrician can perform an initial assessment to determine whether your child may have autism. Health care providers can sometimes detect autism in children as young as 18 months. Consider taking along a list of unusual behaviors to help guide the conversation and properly detail your concerns. If your doctor suspects autism, you will want to proceed with a full assessment, as discussed below.
Contact Your School System
You don’t have to wait to complete a specialized autism assessment before you seek educational assistance. Your child is entitled to these services even if they don’t have an autism diagnosis. If your child is enrolled in school, reach out to the special education office for more information on available support services. Request a full assessment of your child’s social, emotional, behavioral, functional, motor, sensory, and communication skills. This will determine whether your child qualifies for an Individual Education Program (IEP).
If your child has special health care needs or a disability of any kind, they are entitled to assistance via an IEP, regardless of whether their final diagnosis indicates autism or not. The IEP can provide a number of accommodations, including extra test time, participation in a small group setting, speech therapy, counseling, occupational therapy, headphones to minimize loud noises, fidget toys in the classroom, and more.
Schedule an Assessment
Your pediatrician can refer you to a specialist who is qualified to perform an in-depth assessment which will assist in getting your child autism help. During this assessment, the team will observe your child’s behaviors, such as how they play and how they interact with others. They will complete a standard physical evaluation and review your child’s medical records, including any referral information. If you have additional reports, such as paperwork from the school or your child’s day care facility, bring these along as well.
As the parent, you’re a valuable source of information on your child’s behavior. Expect to answer several questions. The team may also ask you to complete a questionnaire about your child. If you’ve taken notes on your child’s habits and behaviors, bring these along as they will provide valuable insights.
Speak with a health care provider promptly if you suspect your child has autism so you can get the help and support that you need as soon as possible. The right services can make a noticeable difference for your family.