Over the years I have interviewed many parents of children with ASD and have found a few commonalities in behaviors they had noticed somewhat early on (within the first year of their child’s life) that had them questioning if there was a problem. Often times, as the old story goes, they brought up these concerns to their pediatrician who told them to “wait and see” and that “most children grow out of” whatever behavior they were discussing. Fast forward years down the line and after a diagnosis was made, parents began to connect the dots recalling those behaviors they questioned early on.
Note: What I am about to share with you is NOT standardized in anyway, however I will say that I have seen most, if not all of these behaviors, listed in other articles and blog posts re: signs/symptoms of ASD. Please also understand that if a child is demonstrating these symptoms it just means further assessment may be warranted. In no way does it imply diagnosis or requirement for treatment of any kind.
Here is a quick list of those sign/symptoms parents have shared with me:
1. Fussy baby: many times I’ve had parents report that their child was very fussy and cried often with not apparent cause. Poor sleeping patterns were also reported in these fussy babies.
2. Lack of eye contact during breast feeding: for children who were breastfed, it seems several of them had some difficulty even within the first months of life, achieving and maintaining eye contact. Infants typically make and hold eye contact when nursing (if not tired) and this can occur as early as about 2 months of age.
3. No social smile: how many times I have heard parents say that their child didn’t smile “back” at them as an infant! Looking back over family photos, a total absence of smile, a distorted or painful smile, or a smile while looking at something other than the person taking the picture has been reported.
4. No response to name/nickname within first year: many parents have said over and over they would become frustrated when they wanted their child to stop doing something harmful to themselves would call and call their names to no avail.
5. Minimal play or restricted play with age-appropriate toys: parents often times realized after they illustrated how to stack blocks or push cars their child would imitate but seem to lack expansion of that play.
6. Play with non-toys: almost all parents I have ever worked with report their child had fixations and spent many hours enjoying idiosyncratic play with “non-toys”. Most times I have been able to see a sensory link between their fixation on these objects and the child’s need for sensory input.
7. Infant happy to play alone: babies are intrinsically social and rely solely (early on) on their caregivers. So when there is an infant who can spend hours at a time perfectly happy to bounce in his/her bouncer alone, or swing in his/her swing, lie on a playmat, etc. without crying out or searching for mom and dad, this can be a concerning sign. In fact, one parent looking back on her son’s development was initially surprised by his diagnosis of ASD and say “But he was such a good baby!”. So sometimes even these behaviors can be taken as a “good sign” or a “calm and happy baby” rather than lacking need for social contact.
By no means is this an exhaustive list but if you have a parent who reports their child is exhibiting any number of these behaviors, it may indicate a need for further investigation.