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Something is different about my child!

We know how toddlers behave when they see a new toy, meet a new child, go to a birthday party, or visit a shopping mall. We've seen children playing in parks, being possessive for their parents and toys, trying to show off their skills and seek attention. We've seen babies playing peek-a-boo and pre-schoolers playing house. We've seen children imitating their parents and pretend play super heroes or movie stars.

As a parent you would have compared your child to those children - you have noticed how your child resembles them and differs from them.

She is 5 or 6 months old, but she is not bonding to me.

He is 1 year old, but not responds when I call him by his name. He does not point to objects. He does not look into my eyes when I talk to him.

He is 15 months old, but I notice that he is not behaving like other children of his age. He does not interact with the world like other kids.

She is 18 months old, but she couldn't give kisses. He comes to kiss me but just bang her face into my cheek.

He is 2 years old but not talking yet.

And deep down you know that something is different about your child.

Not every difference is a disorder. But if your instincts are telling you something is wrong - that something about your child is quite different from other children or that something essential about your child has changed or become increasingly troubling, your instincts are probably right.

The earliest signs of developmental disorders involve the absence of normal behaviours - not the presence of abnormal ones-so they can be tough to spot. However, you can catch the warning signs early if you know what to look out for.

The Early signs of warning in young children

  • Don't make eye contact (e.g. look at you when being fed)
  • Don't look at their mothers when being fed
  • Don't follow objects visually
  • Don't respond to his or her name or to the sound of a familiar voice
  • Don't smile when smiled at
  • Don't imitate your movements and facial expressions
  • Don't follow the gesture when you point things out
  • Don't point or wave goodbye or use other gestures to communicate
  • Don't reach out to be picked up
  • Don't initiate or respond to cuddling
  • Don't make noises to get your attentionM
  • Don't ask for help or make other basic requests
  • Don't play with other people or share interest and enjoyment

The following delays warrant an immediate evaluation by your child's paediatrician.

By 6 months - No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions

Normally, developing babies love to gaze at faces and will usually smile back at a smiling face around 4 to 6 months of age. Thus, very early signs of autism include the baby's failure to turn towards the source of sound and showing no interest towards looking at faces.

By 9 months - No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions

At 9 months, developing babies will make faces and sounds in reaction to those which the parents and caregivers make. Failure to react in this way may be a sign of autism.

By 12 months - Lack of response to name

If taking away a favourite plaything of the child does not result in a verbal protest - it is a sign of autism. Not looking at you upon calling him or her by name is another symptom. No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving are also a sign of autism.

By 15 months - No babbling or "baby talk"

At about 15 months of age, developing babies will use a few words such as 'mama', 'bye-bye' etc. If your child is not doing this, you may have cause to be concerned about his language development.

By 16 months - No spoken words

At around 16 to 18 months of age, baby's use of language develops into a combination of gesture and verbalization and they use about 10 words and start engaging in "pretend" games.

By 24 months - No meaningful two-word phrases that don't involve imitating or repeating

If by the age of 2, if your baby is not understanding and using 50 words, apart from not using these words in a telegraphic way (e.g. "more milk" or "want ball") then this language delay may be a symptom of autism.

By 36 months - No Pretend and Make-believe Play

By the age of 3, by which most instances of autism are diagnosed, normally developing children will engage in more elaborate make - believe play, pretending to be various "actors" in scenarios and will start putting words together in ways that make sense.

So, if you are worried about how your child is developing, how he or she is learning and behaving, you should take your worry seriously. It could be a warning sign for Autism.


[1] Autism Symptoms and Early Signs. Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Ted Hutman, Ph.D (UCLA Center for Autism Research & Treatment). Website: www.helpguide.org