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How young is too young to suspect autism?

By January 31, 2009 - 1:53pm
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Is there a most common age for suspecting autism in a child? How old should a child be before the lags I'm noticing should be considered as more than just normal developmental differences?

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My son has a form of Autism called Asperger's Syndrome. He's very high functioning -- in fact, he's in his gifted class in Jr. High and if you met him, you'd never know that he even had this issue. Although he wasn't formally diagnosed with Asperger's until he was about 7, we knew from the very beginning that he was developmentally delayed. We started him with a developmental pediatrician as well as an occupational therapist and a physical therapist when he was three months old. We added a speech therapist when he was two years old. He had years of weekly therapy from his "team" of therapists. I strongly believe that if he hadn't had such early intervention, he'd have a much more severe form of Autism today. Parents should never brush off developmental delays. They should be addressed right when they're noticed -- it's never too early to start therapy to help with delays, no matter what the underlying issue is.

February 1, 2009 - 1:29pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Kristin Davis)

Hey Kristin,

You said that you started receiving help for your child at 3 months old. How did you know that somnething was wrong? What was your child's symptoms? Thanks!!

May 27, 2009 - 6:05pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Well, like I mentioned in my previous comment here, my son was born 3 months premature. When he was three months old, he was only about 6 pounds, which is probably what he would have weighed at birth since he was a twin. It was very obvious that he was developmentally delayed by virtue of being a premie and having to rely on machines for the first couple of months of his life while he was in NICU. For example, he had to be on a feeding tube because he hadn't developed the ability to suck from a breast or bottle. He was lagging behind in his development from the very beginning, so we intervened early on with physical and occupational therapy to try to help him catch up as soon as possible.

May 27, 2009 - 9:30pm
(reply to Kristin Davis)

What were your son's developmental delays at 3 months old, if you don't mind me asking.

I'm glad to hear your son is doing so well!

February 1, 2009 - 3:11pm
(reply to Alison Beaver)

My son and his twin brother were born three months early, and he ended up staying in NICU for two months. (His brother lived for only 21 hours.) So when he was discharged from NICU at two months, he was still a month away from his original due date. He was developmentally delayed across the board, due not only to his prematurity but also due to having suffered a severe brain hemorrhage during his second week of life. His developmental issues were very obvious, from lack of muscle tone to inability to suck (need for a feeding tube), and we were very conscious of the various things he should have been doing as an infant, that full-term infants would be doing, but that he wasn't yet able to master. Later, he was well over a year old when he finally started to crawl, and he was 19 months old when he took his first steps. Now, at fourteen, he's still very small for his age and is challenged by some social situations, but he is very healthy and incredibly loving. He is highly gifted and started reading encyclopedias when he was five. He loves reading medical journals and hopes to go to Harvard Medical School someday. He says he's got a theory on how to cure AIDS. I wouldn't be surprised if he does -- he never ceases to amaze me.

February 1, 2009 - 10:04pm
(reply to Kristin Davis)

Wouldn't it be obvious that as soon as your baby was born that he was developmentally delayed, and that he was obviouly 3 months behind?
I have had a premmie baby and he is developmentally delayed and this comes naturaly for an exprem baby for there proper birthdate - even though there born at a specfic time, before they are supposed to be born. You see each visit my son had with the paediatrician, the first thing the doctor would check was his heart and his breathing because there were significant breathing issues at the start of his life. He was supposed to come home with oxygen but my huband and I felt uneasy about this. We didn't want to find him in his worst condition by finding him in the cot not breathing. He had the tendency to pull the prongs out from his nostrils, and that is why we were concerend to bring him home with oxygen. Our son when he was 1 and a half years old was ordered by the paediatrician for our son to have early childhood intervention. And at the start our son had physiotherapist, and occupational therapist and speech therapist. Now our son has speech therapist once a month.

July 4, 2010 - 10:12pm
HERWriter Guide

Great questions.

Signs of possible autism can happen early. As early as 3-6 months. 1 in 150 children have a diagnosis of autism, and boys are more likely to have autism than girls (in fact, four times more likely), although it affects girls too. There are several levels (kinds) of autism, known as the autism-spectrum. Some people with autism are very functional and lead pretty normal lives. Others need much more care and therapy. The five kinds of autism are:

1.Classic autism
2.Asperger's syndrome - a milder form
3.Nonspecific pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS) - this is for children who don't fit into either the Classic or Asperger's category.

There are also two rare autism disorders which are often more severe:

4. Rett syndrome
5. Childhood disintegrative disorder

Unfortunately, many children are not diagnosed until they reach school age.

According to the Autism Society, autism can be defined as "... a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities."


Some possible signs are

Not making eye contact
Not smiling by the age of 6 months
Not babbling by the age of 6 months
Not responding to their name
Failing to notice others around them
Lack of interplay with other children
Not using words by 16-18 months
High sensitivity to sound or touch.
Not particularly interested in hugging, kissing, holding or cuddling.
Not using two or more words together by the age of 2.
Repetitive motions like rocking, or constant stacking or lining up of toys.
Reaching milestones and then regressing from them.

None of these signs are in any way definitive signs of autism and this is not a complete list. But many parents who bring their child in for evaluation (and it is usually the parents who spot signs first) see several of these clues.

If someone suspects that autism may be a possibility, even at the age of 6 months, I would always suggest an immediate trip to the pediatrician. If the doctor believes that the child's condition is perfectly normal, and the parent still does not, then take the child to another doctor.

Early intervention is CRUCIAL and I have read on parenting support sites far too many times that parents were told nothing was wrong, that they were just inexperienced new parents or that they were reading too much literature on autism and are seeing signs that are not there. I firmly believe that the instincts of the parents in this particular issue are usually warranted, in some form or another.

It's better spend time in a doctor's office and get evaluations that lead to a normal result, than ignore signs and hope they'll go away - only to regret it later.

The faster a child is diagnosed, the faster intervention can begin and the treatments for autism are getting better and more sophisticated at every turn.

For more information on autism, click here on these links:


I hope this helps.

January 31, 2009 - 5:52pm
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