How to Recognize Autism in Young Children
Jan 09, 2015
We’ve come a long way since Rain Man. While Barry Levinson’s 1988 classic film can be initially hailed for calling attention to autism, it can also be held responsible for common misconceptions in popular culture. Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of an autistic savant with perfect memory recall and an ability to count cards that could outshine someone with years of accounting training rightly won him his second Oscar. But it also created misconceptions about a complex and previously little known neurological disorder.
In fact, a more accurate and outspoken example would be that of activist Temple Grandin, whose work on calming devices for those on the autistic spectrum lay the groundwork for a makeshift one-woman autistic interior design college. Grandin’s work underscores the important of inclusion – and of developing interventions and accommodations that are especially geared toward autistic learners. Here are some early signs of autism in childhood development that will help early childhood educators identify these special needs right from the start.
Resisting Human Contact and Limited Communication
While there is currently no medical test to diagnose autism, there are red flags as early as 12 months into a child’s life. While it is common for babies to babble or speak gibberish before their first word, a baby with autism would not commonly do so. A baby’s first attempt at communication – pointing at objects around the room – would also not be seen. A noticeable lack of common human gestures or eye contact at this early age could be an indicator of autism.
In addition, an autistic child may withdraw from others and immerse themselves in a private world – perhaps constantly repeating actions such as spinning the wheel of a toy car. Such actions would also demonstrate an obvious lack of interest in the caregiver.
By the child’s second year, after some language and communication has developed, he or she may begin to regress, often losing words or the ability to make contact with others.
Asperger’s in Toddlers
Asperger’s syndrome is considered to be mild on the autism spectrum. It is defined by significant difficulties in social interaction or nonverbal communication. Some symptoms are harder to diagnose, and years ago would simply be written off as tics or eccentricities. The major difference between Asperger’s and more severe cases of autism is the former’s ability to retain linguistic and cognitive development. Though not always the case, a person suffering from Asperger’s might be clumsy or use language in an unusual way. However, their interest in and attention to detail can sometimes work in their favour career-wise. Satoshi Tajiri, famed game designer, used his disability in conjunction with his 3D animation training to create the popular Pokemon series.
Ignoring Social Cues
Due to its linguistic nature, a child with Asperger’s might be harder to spot. One must rely exclusively on a toddler’s behaviour. Pay close attention to the child in various social scenarios. A child with Asperger’s will often withdraw from others, or even get upset if another child initiates a conversation. In other cases, the child will easily initiate conversation with another, then seemingly lose interest and suddenly leave the room. Social cues and conventions are often ignored.
Asperger’s may cause the child to have difficulty understanding the concept of social games, or even display a lack of empathy towards someone else’s feelings. Disregard for another child’s feelings is not to be considered insensitive, but rather entirely beyond their control.
These behavioural and linguistic issues in early childhood development are often warning signs and should not be ignored. Once identified, children with autism can be included in mainstream classrooms with appropriate modifications and adaptations.
Would you be interested in working in an inclusive classroom setting, helping diverse learners grow and thrive?
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