By Kara Brooklier, PhD, Pediatric Neuropsychologist, Senior Director, Developmental Disabilities Services

Having concerns that your child may have autism can be overwhelming and scary. Let us help you learn more about your child and help to get your child the right assistance. Already know that your child has ASD? Let us help with an individualized behavioral treatment and support plan!

The Children’s Center Autism Program offers comprehensive diagnostic evaluations, behavioral treatment programs, psychiatric services, and parent support for families of children with ASD, ages 1 year to 17 years.

Here are 4 Things You Need to Know About Autism Spectrum Disorder:

1. There are varying degrees of autism, which is why it is referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Not every person who has autism presents with the same level of symptoms or even the same symptoms! For some of us, thoughts of someone with autism may fall back to memories of the movie, “Rain Man” — but that’s only one picture of one person with ASD. Symptoms can be mild to the extent that a non-trained observer may not realize that the child (or adult) has ASD or so impairing that the symptoms frequently impact the child’s ability to function in the social world. ASD covers a broad range of symptoms, including social communication, social interactions, and repetitive and sensory behaviors.

Further, though there are some symptoms that many children with autism show, such as poor eye contact or sensory behaviors, not all children with ASD will show these symptoms. A child can have good eye contact and no sensory abnormalities but still meet criteria for autism if there are other notable ASD symptoms present and those symptoms impact the child’s functioning in the social world.

2. Early identification of ASD is important and indicators of ASD may start appearing even before a child is 12 months old!

In the area of ASD, the focus is on early identification and early intervention. Most children with autism are able to be reliably diagnosed by 18 to 24 months. However, there may be notable signs present during infancy. Cool research studies have looked at eye gaze behaviors of children at high risk of possibly showing autism (siblings of children with autism). Researchers found that children who got diagnosed with autism during toddlerhood showed much less use of eye to eye gaze and time spent looking at faces than children who did not end up getting diagnosed with ASD. This research is new and is not yet being used to identify children; however, the following hallmarks are red flags for ASD in toddlerhood (remember that kids with ASD will not usually show all of these symptoms):

  • Not responding to name by 12 months
  • Poor eye contact
  • No social smile
  • Not showing or sharing interests with others
  • Lack of pointing to objects of interest (such as airplanes in the sky or squirrels in trees)
  • Playing alone and lack of interest in other children
  • Absence of pretend play skills by 18 months
  • Hand flapping or other unusual motor movements
  • Difficulty communicating wants and needs using words or gestures
  • Obsessive or repetitive interests
  • Upset by changes in the routine or fixation on rituals
  • Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

If you have concerns about signs of autism for your child, do not hesitate to call your pediatrician to discuss your concerns and to receive a referral for further evaluation. If you know your child needs an evaluation for ASD, call a local clinic, such as the Children’s Center, to set up an appointment for screening and evaluation.

Any parent concerned about any developmental delay should call Early On (1-800-EarlyOn) for free evaluation and intervention.

3. Autism Spectrum Disorder can be best understood as a learning disability in the social world (and early behavioral intervention is the key to treating ASD).

Parents of toddlers will tell you that kids imitate their parents. Kids pretend to mow the lawn like daddy, wink like big sister, and pour juice like mommy. In addition to just being really adorable, these social imitation behaviors serve an essential function in how young children learn—they learn from watching and copying others. Most children learn naturally from imitating others and it is not a skill that has to be taught. However, for children with ASD, social learning is almost always impaired.

Early behavioral intervention, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA, is the key to helping children with ASD learn how to learn from the social environment. The sooner treatments begin, the sooner children with ASD can learn to pay attention to and learn from the social world. Based on decades of research growing stronger every year, we know that behavioral interventions are quite effective at helping children with autism develop and improve language and social skills, as well as manage difficult symptoms, such as self-injurious and aggressive behaviors. Qualified behavioral therapists do this by working on intensive lessons individualized for the child — and also working with the parents, caregivers, and siblings, since everyone can help!

The Children’s Center and several other local autism centers offer Applied Behavioral Analysis services for children with ASD. If you have a child with autism, do not wait to get behavioral help for your child.

4. Children with autism spectrum disorder should not be defined by the diagnosis of autism.

All of us as humans have something with which we struggle or need to manage, such as weight, allergies, anxiety, or high blood pressure. Autism is no different. Although it is certainly a condition that requires attention and intervention, it does not and should not define an individual.

Simply said, all children are unique and are much, much more than their diagnosis of autism.

The Children’s Center

Are you looking for autism skill clinics — including understanding the diagnosis, parent support, social skill development, or toilet training? The Children’s Center is here to help families in Michigan shape their own futures in so many ways! For more information, visit us at or call us at (313) 831-5535.

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