Trouble with verbal communication
“While babies hit language milestones at various times, if there is a delay beyond certain ages, it’s important to seek a professional evaluation,” says Paul Wang, MD, senior vice president and head of medical research at Autism Speaks. Potential autism symptoms include no babbling or no back-and-forth gestures like pointing or waving by 12 months; no words by 16 months; or no meaningful, two-word phrases by 24 months. Here are 12 things you should never say to the parent of a child on the autistic spectrum.
Challenges with social reciprocity
“Healthy children show their connections with other people by sharing a smile, a hug, or a knowing look,” says Dr. Wang. If you’re not seeing big smiles or other joyful expressions by six months of age, it could be a potential part of autism symptoms. Similarly, if your baby is not mimicking sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months, it’s advisable to seek an evaluation. Eye contact might also be difficult for people with ASD, which affects their ability to read and interpret other people’s facial expressions. “Many children with autism have a hard time relating to others, so they may seem more interested in objects than people,” says Dana Wattenberg Khani, MEd, senior consultant and autism expert for Autism Friendly Spaces, which partners with organizations to make them more accommodating to people with diverse needs. For example, if you show your child a photo of a ball, or give him a ball, he may be more focused on those than on making eye contact with Mom or Dad. He also may prefer to play alone because of difficulties relating to other people. Learn about the simple eye test that could help diagnose autism earlier.
Loss of speech or social skills
According to research, regression is very common among children with ASD. “Any child who is sick or upset might show a couple of days of decreased language and communication, but if the loss of skills lasts more than a few days, it’s important to seek out an expert to figure out why,” suggests Dr. Wang. “Studies have suggested that about one-third of children with autism experience some kind of regression, but most of these children do not have typical development to begin with,” former autism researcher Jennifer Richler wrote on slate.com. “Instead, they have early delays and lose some of the skills they had attained.”