understanding autism in children

More than one in 100 people have some form of autism – the term used for a range of difficulties with understanding social life, communication and coping with change. It's a part of who they are and there isn't a treatment. But the earlier you discover your child is autistic, the sooner they can get support and you can begin to understand their world.

are there early signs of autism in baby's first 12 months?

It's unlikely that any experts would diagnose autism much before 2 years old. Because it affects social awareness and communication, it's hard to identify it for certain in very young children.

However, parents of autistic children often say that their children didn't make eye contact as babies in the first few months and didn't smile at them or laugh. They say their children didn't follow their gaze and that they were slow to speak or babble. Just because you spot these things, it doesn't mean your child is autistic. Equally, some children's autistic traits only become clear when their older. Let your GP know if you have any concerns about how your baby is developing: they may be able to test for other conditions.

what signs of autisms might i see in my toddler?

Autistic children often struggle with communication, whether it's in learning to use words or with gestures, eye contact or body language. They might repeat whole phrases that are said to them but not make up their own sentences. Often they like doing things repetitively: lining things up, turning lights on and off or opening and closing doors.

Sometimes they have gestures and movements they repeat when they're excited or upset, like flapping their hands. Some children with autism find it really important to stick to the same routine: even tiny changes can trigger very negative reactions. Because the world is more difficult and confusing for autistic children, they may get frustrated: biting, kicking, pinching other people or hurting themselves.

how do doctors tell if my child has autism?

The easiest way to start is to tell your GP or health visitor about your concerns. It can help to keep a behaviour diary, writing down the things that make you wonder if they have autism. Some GPs will have a screening interview, where they check your child against a list of characteristics of autism. They can then refer you for a formal assessment by a team of experts, such as a paediatrician, speech and language therapist and a specialist psychologist.

what happens if my child is diagnosed as autistic?

It can come as a shock or a relief, but it's important to remember that they're the same child they always were. Now you can get them the support that they need.

For more information and advice see the links below: