How can you tell if your child has autism (autism spectrum disorder)? Experts from the Department of Neonatal & Developmental Medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) answer.
What are early signs and symptoms that your toddler may have autism (clinically refered to as autism spectrum disorder)? Read on to find out.
What is autism (autism spectrum disorder)?
Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex disorder of the central nervous system, which often first appears as delayed speech in children around 18 months of age. The disorder exists at birth and can usually be reliably diagnosed by the time the child is three years old.
Autism is one type of ASD that appears in early childhood — usually before age three. About 15 to 20 children in every 10,000 children are autistic. Boys are up to four times more likely to develop autism than girls. Autism is characterised by impaired communication and social interaction, as well as behavioural problems.
Prof Ho Lai Yun, Emeritus Consultant from the
Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine at
Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the
SingHealth group, explains: “Autism is one of several disorders – including Asperger syndrome and Rett syndrome – that are classified under autism spectrum disorder (ASD).”
Children with ASD develop normally into adults. However, they continue to have impaired social communication, interaction and fondness for repetitive actions. How the child turns out is usually determined by his or her cognitive and social abilities.
About 70% of children with ASD are mentally retarded, with most requiring supervision at home and work. They enjoy a normal life expectancy, although some will have residual psychological problems (anxiety and depression) or seizures.
Autism may improve with appropriate education and therapy or as the child matures. Some eventually lead normal or near-normal lives, although they continue to show some social awkwardness.
Autism awareness in Singapore
Autism (autism spectrum disorder) continues to be on the rise in Singapore. But this could simply be due to a growing awareness and systematic screening of developmental problems. Professor Ho shares, “Previously, a whole lot of children with mild or moderate developmental problems were not picked up or were wrongly diagnosed as mentally retarded.”
These days, parents and medical professionals are more aware. While children typically get diagnosed between the age of four and six, parents usually notice something is wrong by 18 months.
Signs and symptoms of autism
A child with autism (autism spectrum disorder) displays certain behavioural characteristics over a period of time, include:
Impairment of social communication
Delayed speech and language development
Difficulty expressing oneself or understanding others’ feelings or thoughts
Have difficulty using and reading gestures, facial expressions and body language
Impairment of social interaction/imagination
Tends to ignore people Most would show simple attachment to parents or caregivers
Often active although socially odd
Some may initiate contact but in an odd, awkward or inappropriate way
Unable to play imaginatively with objects or toys or with other children and adults
Display limited range of imaginative activities. Play tends to be copied, repetitive and stereotypic
Often likes repetitive and stereotypic activities
Simple stereotypic activities like flicking fingers, spinning themselves or car wheels, watching running electronic displays, rocking or head banging
Complex stereotypic activities: lining things, repeated replays of CDs, using fixed routes and fixation with particular topics
Intolerance to noise or certain textures, apparent insensitivity or over-response to pain, heat or cold
Uneven patterns of intellectual functioning: may have unique skills, for example in music, numbers and letters but overall developmental delay or mental retardation
“If the child is not meeting developmental milestones like babbling or gesturing by one year of age, a visit to the doctor is a must,” advises Professor Ho. “Early diagnosis can help to improve the long-term outcomes for developmental disorders like autism.”
Read the next page for
treatments and tips to care for a child with autism.
Check out other articles on autism:
Diet Tips for Children with Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
Tips to Overcome Caregiver Burnout and Where to Get Help
Early Sibling Screening for Children with Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder)