Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain that manifests symptoms in areas regarding a person’s behavior, social relationships, language, and, sometimes, intelligence.
One third to half of the parents of children with autism notice a problem even before their child's first birthday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, nearly 90 percent saw issues by the time their child reached 24 months old.
It’s a “spectrum disorder” because the condition can range from mild to very severe, says the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, which also means there can be considerable differences between persons diagnosed with it. Though autism does have typical red flags, the combination of symptoms and its severity can vary greatly.
Remains nonverbal or has delayed language development
Repeats words or phrases over and over
Gets upset by minor changes in routine or surroundings
Struggles with understanding other people’s feelings
Has highly restricted interests
Performs repetitive behaviors such as flapping, rocking or spinning
Has unusual and often intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors
Your pediatrician will be looking for delays in developmental milestones that may point to autism at your baby’s 18- and 24-month well-baby checkup, says Dr. Reysio-Cruz, who holds a clinic at Capitol Medical Center in Quezon City and is a diplomate and a fellow of the Philippine Pediatric Society and the Philippine Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
However, if you have any concerns before then, don’t hesitate to bring it up with the doctor. “Parents may notice the signs early, but then denial sets in. There can also be well-meaning relatives and friends who reassure the parents that there's nothing wrong with their child (with no basis for saying so) leading to late detection and consequently, late intervention,” says Dr. Reysio-Cruz. Remember, you know your child best.
As with most developmental conditions, early detection is crucial. “Early intervention gives you the opportunity to improve your child’s later outcome. You will not lose anything with early consultation with professionals,” says Dr. Lourdes C. Sumpaico-Tanchanco, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at The Medical City.