This post, the third in a series, is courtesy of Dr. David Jenkins, Sr., a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology and Lead for Psychological Services at Lubbock, TX. Dr. Jenkins has provided psychological services to school districts in Lubbock, Texas and surrounding school districts for over 25 years and has served on the Texas Education Agency statewide networks for autism and behavior.

Identifying a Child as Autistic

How do you know if your child might have Autism? Perhaps the most striking behavioral symptom of the condition involves verbal communication problems. When they occur on a regular basis you should be concerned and investigate further. Keeping in mind the continuum we have described in my previous posts, these language deficits can take a variety of forms. The child may:

Never use spoken language to communicate.

Sound like a parrot, simply repeating everything that is heard.

Repeat your question instead of answering it, or repeat songs they have heard or portions of movies they like.

Use odd word choices when they communicate. I pointed out earlier how one child at Thanksgiving talked about getting to “hack” the turkey.

Talk and talk and talk about favorite topics and interests but never ask you a question about it.

Be able to read but not understand the material.

Say unusual things like, “He likes ice cream,” instead of “I like ice cream.”

Be able to carry on a conversation.

Some additional warning indications, although not definitive signs of autism, should nevertheless raise a red flag in your head. These include things like the following:

The child is not talking by 2 years of age. Or, your child has begun using words and then around 18-24 months stops using those same words.

You notice inattentive behavior on a regular basis and think your child might have a hearing problem.

You find yourself wondering why your child rarely makes eye contact with you.

You wish your child would be more interactive with you and others, such as playing peek-a-boo or smiling back at you.

You notice your child regularly prefers to be off alone, even at his or her birthday party or at other family gatherings.

Your child seems to have exaggerated sensitivities to certain sensory experiences, such as lights or sounds.

You notice on a regular basis that your child has difficulty adjusting to change, such as a new routine. The child definitely prefers sameness and predictability, and repetitious behaviors occur frequently.

To some degree, all children can display any of the above characteristics at any point in time. Generally you hardly notice them. When they are extreme, frequent, and predictable, however, they catch your attention. It is at this point you may want to investigate further. Also keep in mind that any of the above could be indications of something other than autism. The child might have a language deficit. A condition like fetal alcohol syndrome, due to effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, can often look the same as autism. Basically, if you are overly concerned there is only one way to know what’s going on and that is to have the child evaluated by trained professionals trained to do such evaluations.

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