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Common Autism Symptoms

Learn about common symptoms of autism from pediatrician and child development expert Asma J. Sadiq, M.D. in this Howcast video.


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So, some of the common symptoms seen in children with the autism spectrum disorder; there really are quite a few and it varies. The core symptoms again is with social engagement, social communication, social referencing, with speech and language because not just delay in language but it being atypical. What we see is things like echolalia, you're echoing. It's appropriate at two years or younger but, if it continues to happens, that's a concern. There is also scripting, which is remembering dialogues verbatim. You find children just being able to remember a dialogue; and even say it out of context or maybe a conversation between their parents and they're just repeating it. It can be cute and amusing at some point but, can also be awkward and embarrassing. But, it is an unusual symptom to have.

The other symptom that is commonly seen is repetitive behaviors. Not just lining up but, also having certain hand flapping stereotypies. Play can be very limited: lining up toys, wanting things in a particular order, certain kind of rigidity and fixture with rooting is often seen. Parents come in with concerns regarding hard hand flapping for example. Now, that is seen in kids with the autism spectrum but, can also be seen otherwise in kids who get excited or have other diagnoses of developmental issues like mental retardation, etc. So, one symptom per say is not diagnostic you have to look at have to look at the cluster of symptoms. A lot of these kids have a particular food sensitivity or texture sensitivity, and they will have only soft foods for a very long time or only want crunchy foods or particular colored foods.

It is so variable because we are all variable and children particularly in the spectrum can present with a variety of different symptoms. But, these are the areas that are commonly involved. Some kids get very distressed by loud noises or going to malls and they cover their ears. Covering of ears is something that shows hyperacusis or over sensitivity to sound. Some children can be very stoic. They have an injury and they keep going. They don't seek the parent for comfort. Another common symptom that is seen is not engaging enough to want to share emotion, not seeking a parent to say "Hey, come look at this with me." They seem a lot in their own world. Often, some kids can be spinning repetitively or focusing on certain lights or wanting to open and close doors and drawers.

So, a lot of their play is very solitary and they seem a little bit more in their own world. They can be engaged and they may seek a parent when they need something. Take parent by the hand for example or be fascinated by their earring and not really looking into their face. Children at times don't respond to their name and parents just think 'Oh, my child just has a hearing problem,' and yet, they can respond to noises. So, it's a huge area that one needs to look at, but I would break it down to three common areas as I said in the beginning. Look at speech and language, eye contact. Look at social referencing, social engagement or what they call joint attention, which means I look at something and look at you and we point at it together.

So, there is a shared experience. A lot of children have difficulty with what they call joint attention and that is one of the red flags that I would be concerned about as I am with eye contact or not responding to their name. So if you have concerns regarding any of these particular symptoms that I've described. I haven't described all of them but, if you have concerns, do follow up with your primary care physician. You also have the option of following up directly with early intervention services. If you feel your primary physician is not as concerned and has a kind of wait and see philosophy. So, this is in your hands. This is your child.

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