Infant autism refers to an autistic individual who is diagnosed or suspected of having the condition during infancy. It was formerly thought that autism could not be properly diagnosed until later in childhood, with the average age being four to five years old. This thought is being challenged, and many researchers indicate that autism symptoms may be present even in the earliest stages of child development.
There are various signs parents can watch out for when trying to determine if their baby may have infant autism. Common early onset symptoms may include a failure to smile by two months of age, lack of eye contact, inability to distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces, and little to no interest in social interaction with caregivers. Later symptoms which may be present by two years of age include lack of speech development, obsessive attachment to a particular toy or object and aloofness toward caregivers and parents.
While these are common characteristics of infant autism, no two children with the condition are the same. One child may require lots of interaction but seem very unhappy and discontent. Another may seem happy all of the time but show little or no interest in interacting with parents and siblings. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, there are any number of variations and combinations of symptoms.
Although infant autism is becoming more recognized by the medical community, parents should understand that a failure to reach milestones during infancy does not necessarily indicate autism. There are a host of other conditions, some of them simple and easy to treat, which could explain a lack of progress. On the other hand, infants who seem to be developing normally may end up having autism. Many children reach milestones until hitting a certain age, then their skills seem to regress or become “lost.” For this reason, parents should take note of any odd behavior in children through school age, even if no previous worrisome habits were present.
With early intervention and therapy, many autistic children go on to live normal and productive lives. If autism is detected at the very earliest stages of development, intervention can take place years before previously thought possible. This may lead to even better outcomes for autistic children and their parents. Treatment may include therapy for parents and children, and training in learning techniques which have proven effective for children with an autism spectrum disorder.