How Do I Know If My Child Is On the Spectrum?

autism-top-early-signs

Dr Andy

April 2, 2021

Question: Mary V. asked, “How do I know if my child is on the spectrum?”

Answer: Hi Mary!

Before I answer, many folks are not aware of what is meant by ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). It’s the current umbrella category to define all levels of autism across a broad spectrum. According to the DSM-5, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the diagnosis is given when the following are present:

  1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.
  2. Restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities.
  3. The symptoms are present in the early developmental period.
  4. Clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of current functioning.
  5. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability or global developmental delay. Social communication should be below that expected for his/her general developmental level.

Mary, the severity levels for ASD are listed as:

Level 1: Requiring support

Level 2: Requiring substantial support and;

Level 3: Requiring very substantial support.

In further answer to your question, the first medical signs of autism are sleep and feeding problems. Also, early on, the child may not be drawn toward social activities, preferring to play alone. Also, he/she does not point to interesting objects that they want parents to notice (joint attention). The very young child with ASD appears to not consider people as most important to them and prefers to play with objects and enjoy sensory experiences: like playing with water.

Other symptoms include fixations on specific objects, repetitive behaviors like hand-flapping or twirling, constant moving, specific routines or rituals (and getting upset when a routine is changed), and extreme sensitivity to touch, light, or sound.

Mary, next week, we’ll discuss preventative measures parents can take to minimize the chance of having a child with autism.


Dr. Andy McCabe is the former Director of Special Education for the City of Bayonne, NJ where he facilitated one of the first public school classes for the autistic in 1992. Currently, he is an Associate Professor at New Jersey City University where he has taught autism-related graduate classes since 2000. Recently, he edited Autism Essentials a compendium of 33 chapters from top specialists on Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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