Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Early Signs of Autism

I'm been asked over and over what signs Reagan (15), Kaelan (15) & Leo (2 1/2) showed as toddlers that led to their diagnosis of autism.  Since early intervention has been proven to be one of the biggest advantages for children with autism, I wanted to share early signs we experienced with our boys to possibly help facilitate others to seek help sooner than later.  For us, it wasn't until all 3 were a year or older when the signs became apparent. Their first year, aside from the premature birth of Reagan & Kaelan was pretty typical. They smiled, made eye contact and met cognitive and physical milestones for the most part on time. 

When Reagan & Kaelan were around 16 months old, I thought something was going on because they were so different from Riley at that age. I attributed the differences due to them being born 5 weeks early. I also thought maybe we'd neglected to entertain them as much as we had Riley with silly songs, patty cakes, peek-a-boos, reading books and other baby/toddler games because we were overwhelmed when they were born premature 5 days after Riley turned 2.  So we overloaded them with engaging activities hoping to make up for lost time. But by the time they reached their 2nd birthday, Matt & I were still seeing too many unusual behaviors and still very little speech. Back in the dark ages before Google, I was actually able to find a check list online of "Symptoms of Autism". Shockingly, Kaelan had almost every single symptom. Reagan, on the other hand, had some symptoms, but not all. Overall, Reagan seemed stagnant in his social and verbal development. This led me to make a list for our pediatrician of each twin before their 2 year check up documenting their personalities, developmental milestones and quirks.  I wanted to see what our pediatrician's thoughts were. I was pretty surprised when he acted like we were crazy, but we realized later he had a really old view on what autism was. Thank God I pushed him to order an Early Intervention evaluation by our state (First Steps) instead of waiting it out.

Two years ago, close to his 1st birthday, Leo also started showing early signs of autism. Because I knew what I was looking for, I saw some signs almost an entire year before Reagan & Kaelan. The benefit of recognizing the signs earlier meant Leo received First Steps (Early Intervention) a year sooner than his brothers.

Before listing the signs, I'm going to do a disclaimer.  I'm not a doctor or a psychologist.  I'm just a mom writing about what I saw with my 3 boys before they were 2 years old. All three are very different in how autism has affected them, but most of the early signs I'm listing, we saw in all of them. I'm leaving Lily out of this post because her first few years were so involved with health issues that I don't feel it's fair to include how we came to the decision (actually just recently) that she has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome & autism.  That will be a whole other post someday.

Early signs of autism in my boys:

1. When they were babies, all three had great eye contact and then they went out of their way to avoid eye contact (i.e.: turning their head looking anywhere, BUT at our eyes). Because I was really watching for this, Leo went from amazing eye contact to non-exsistent right around his 1st birthday.  I noticed this trait more with Kaelan than Reagan when they were around 15 months old.  Once we started pushing for better eye contact they almost acted bashful about giving it.  Leo would squint like he was looking into the sun when he'd give us even fleeting eye contact. 

2. They would respond to their name (turning to look when called and usually smiling) by the time they were 6 months old or so.  Leo started acting deaf around a year and rarely responded to his name anymore after that.  Somewhere around 18 months I remember worrying about the twin's hearing because they too never seem to respond to their name anymore.  We had Reagan's tympanic's checked after an ear infection and he failed them so our ENT placed tubes in the ears to help with fluid buildup.  Kaelan's tympanic's were normal at the time, but after several ear infections and then failing a hearing test ordered by First Steps, he had tubes placed a couple of months after he turned two.  Even with tubes though, they still acted like they were deaf most of the time.

3.  Little or no speech.  Kaelan said DaDa, GaGa, BaBa when he was around 10-11 months old and then lost all speech.  Reagan said DaDa and made lots of sounds/gibberish, but no real words that we understood.  Leo makes the M sound and the E sound right now, but has no real speech yet and is considered nonverbal.  It is important to note that children who have Asperger's don't usually have speech delays.

4.  Loved to spin things or themselves.  Kaelan could spin a hot wheel car like you wouldn't believe.  He also turned little bikes upside down to spin the tires.  They all three loved to watch things spin.  Reagan & Leo liked spinning themselves around and around and never got dizzy.

5.  Clapped really late (loved to watch patty-cake, but would not do without hand over hand help)

6.  Took a long time to learn names of body parts.  Leo still doesn't know these at almost 3 years old.

7.  Took a long time to wave bye-bye.  Leo still doesn't do this.

8.  No pointing with their finger. Instead, they would use their eyes to point by looking intently what they wanted.  Hard part was guessing what they wanted because if I was wrong they would scream bloody murder or cry hysterically.

9.  They all made sing song sounds and lots of screaming whether excited or upset. 

10. Completely ignored or were indifferent to other children & adults.  Parallel play to the extreme.

11.  Covered their ears a lot because lots of sounds bothered them.

12.  Very picky eaters, usually had favorite foods and avoided all others especially squishy textures.

13.  They loved to carry multiple toys or objects in their hands and God forbid they should drop something or you try to take something away.  I swear this is a precursor to OCD behavior or future obsessions ;)

14.  Didn't play with toys appropriately.  No imagination at all.  Kaelan loved to line things up.  Reagan preferred magazines and books.  Leo used to eat all of our board books (pica) and now loves to line things (toys and other objects) up.

15.  Took a long time to comprehend simple phrases like:  "Do you want a drink?" Do you want to eat?" "Where's Mommy?'  "Where's Daddy?" and to respond appropriately.

16.  Walked on tip toes (Leo & Reagan) and jumping up and down in place while flapping their arms.  Right now, Leo loves to watch his fingers wiggle.

Again, these are signs we saw in our boys as toddlers.  In my opinion, the first 3 were my biggest clues.  All children have quirks and it doesn't mean they have autism.  You can even line up 10 children with autism and they will be nothing alike.  Autism manifests itself differently and what may be an issue or behavior with one child may not affect another at all. The most prevailing traits of autism outwardly exhibited from all of my boys would be their lack of social skills, speech delays and sensory processing issues.  Knowing how far Reagan & Kaelan have come, has given me the confidence to know that Leo has limitless potential.  If you have any questions or see some signs in your child, my advice is to talk to your child's doctor because the earlier intervention is started the better.  Studies show children who have therapies early on seem to do better than their peers who may be diagnosed later. 

Since "Early Signs of Autism" is my highest read post on my blog, I thought I'd include a link to all of my "autism" posts in case anyone would like to read more about how autism impacts my kids and our family.  AUTISM POSTS

I also found this great visual on Pinterest:



roberta williams said...

my little boy who is now 2 in a couple of days displayed signs of autism although not diagnosed as a mum i no he has it our Doctors said there are red flags that are concerning them butthey like to wait and dont want to jump to conclusions but like i said as a mum i think you no someting is wrong with your baby

Anonymous said...

I think my little girl may have autism and im sick of people telling me that shes only 2 when shes been reffered to a speech therapist for a reason. Feels like they're making me think im over reacting but surely shes showing so many signs x

ErinM said...

Our daughter was just diagnosed with autism this past week. She is 2 1/2 years old and has shown all of the signs you listed that you noticed in your own children in their early years. We had to really push hard with our pediatrician to try to get her to order an autism screening. We had already visited with our Area Education Agency which has been providing in home occupational therapy a few hours a week for the past year. Eventually, we just called and set up the appointment ourselves at the Children's Hospital center for development and disabilities. Very glad we did, as she ages out of this free program in only 6 months. We now have so many resources available to her and are preparing for the possibility of autism in our son, who will be born in just a couple of months.

The Posh Pearl said...

Mommies know their children. Always go with your gut. My family said the same thing about my son and we essentially learned that we were correct in diagnosing our child with attachment disorder (our children are from an orphanage.) Too many times we were told, he is only 2, he'll be fine.