Excerpt: 'The Autism Sourcebook'

He had a point. Jake was our first child. How did we know what was considered typical development? We had read the parenting books and had a sense of typical developmental milestones, but the books said there were always exceptions.

"You're overreacting," our pediatrician tried to reassure me when I expressed concerns about Jake's loss of speech and his sudden lethargy.

While Jake's loss of speech was the biggest red flag for us, it wasn't until after Jake was diagnosed with an ASD that we were able to look back at what were identified as other early infancy red flags. Jake had trouble nursing (an early sign of oral motor issues), had an unusual combat crawl where he dragged himself across the floor (an early sign of gross motor issues, which involve the larger muscle groups), and didn't walk until he was sixteen months old (quite late according to developmental charts). Other parents report not noticing infancy or toddler warning signs until years later when they watched early home videos of their children. It was only then they observed that their children didn't imitate or engage in pretend play or know how to grip a crayon when they were supposed to.

Researchers are now convinced that the earlier children are diagnosed, the greater the chances that they will receive the maximum benefit from treatment intervention. A report from the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies of Science urges the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Education to promote early routine screening of children for ASDs, similar to the routine screening that is done for hearing and vision problems.

Which signs should you look for? Here is a list of questions that can help you detect the signs of ASDs. It's crucial to keep in mind that a child who exhibits one or two of the listed behaviors is not necessarily on the autism spectrum. What makes these behaviors significant is that they occur frequently, intensely, and in clusters. This list should be used to alert you to some of the early signs of an ASD; it should not be used for official diagnostic purposes. I compiled this list based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Autism Society of America (ASA), and from speaking with doctors and experts in the field of autism spectrum disorders:

Does Your Two- to Five-Year-Old Child...

not respond when you call his or her name or seem generally unresponsive?

not use his or her index finger to point to objects to indicate what he or she wants or to show you something?

have intermittent or no eye contact?

still not speak?

not speak anymore?

demonstrate odd or idiosyncratic speech or language -- such as endlessly repeating nursery rhymes, echoing or repeating words or phrases, or making unusual sounds?

demonstrate odd or idiosyncratic behavior -- such as hand flapping, finger flicking, or constant spinning?

demonstrate a regression in overall behavior -- including communication, play, and social skills?

experience emotional volatility and tantrums that are out of control?

have poor motor coordination when it comes to physical activities such as running or climbing?

fixate on objects such as ceiling fans or bright lights or parts of objects such as the wheels of a toy car?

seem highly distracted or "spaced out"?

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