Autism is a developmental disorder that usually becomes apparent in early childhood, around three years of age. Childhood autism seems to affect more boys than girls, and most doctors agree that diagnosing the signs and symptoms of this disorder early is important. Autistic behavior may not develop until the toddler years, and it can range from moderate to severe. Some signs of childhood autism can be limited social interaction, abnormal or lack of communication skills, and limited or repetitive interests.
Social interaction is an important milestone for growing children. As infants grow into toddlers, they will show an increased interest in their parents and other children. With childhood autism, this interest may be peculiar or nonexistent.
One sign of childhood autism is difficulty showing empathy. For example, autistic children do not seem to understand another person's emotions, such as pain or sadness. They may also have trouble sharing joyful moments with someone.
Autistic children may show no interest at all in other children and may prefer to play alone. An autistic toddler may start to tune others out and seemingly retreat more and more into his own little world. Because of this, he may fail to form any real friendships with children of the same age.
Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is an important skill for children to learn. Problems with communicating can be a sign of childhood autism. An autistic child may have problems learning to speak, or he may begin to speak normally then suddenly lose his language skills. Some autistic children may not speak at all.
One common childhood autism symptom is repetitive language. An autistic child may repeat a certain word or phrase over and over again. Starting a conversation or keeping one going may be difficult for the autistic child. He also may not be able to interpret humor or sarcasm.
Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. Failing to perform basic gestures, like waving and pointing, by 12 months of age could be a sign of childhood autism. Resisting affection, limited or extreme emotions, and not responding to his name are also early signs of this disorder.
A child with limited or unusual interests may also demonstrate symptoms of childhood autism. Many autistic children will seem focused on pieces of toys, rather than playing with the toy as a whole. For example, he may be preoccupied with the wheel of a toy truck instead of driving the truck around.
The need for routine and repetition is extremely important to many autistic children. Many will show an extreme resistance to any type of change, including relatively small changes. Unusual repetitive movements may also be present with an autistic child. He may constantly rock his body or spin in a circle.