Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized as a complex neurobiological condition that impacts the function of the immune, endocrine, nervous, hepatic and gastrointestinal systems. In addition, it can also severely impact one’s social interactions and development, causing repeated behavioural patterns. The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder has grown to well over 100% in the last decade. 1 in 68 children have ASD, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed neurobiological conditions in Canada today.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is caused by both environmental and genetic factors, though there has not been a definitive determination as to what, exactly, causes ASD. What is known about ASD, however, is that it can occur in all ethnic and racial backgrounds, and it is a lifelong disorder.

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder as early as possible can make a world of difference. As it commonly appears in infancy and childhood, there are a number of warning signs that parents should watch for in their children.

While some of the impairments in correlation with autism may only be mild for some children, those same impairments can be quite challenging for others. For example, how your child socializes and interacts with others. This includes verbal and non-verbal communications, how they think and behave, as well as how they relate to their peers and the outside world. It is important to monitor your child’s development to ensure that they are meeting all of the appropriate cognitive, social and emotional milestones for their age. While it’s not always the case, these sorts of delays in development put your child at a heightened risk of having ASD. A child with ASD may also regress. For example, they may stop communicating or using certain words that they would have otherwise commonly used before, (i.e. saying “hello,” “mommy,” etc.) They may also lose interest in games and television shows that they previously enjoyed. Regressions of this nature are considered serious and should not be ignored.

In slightly older children, the signs of autism become much more diversified. They may seem aloof or detached, have difficulty connecting with others and making friends, have trouble discussing their feelings, and dislike being touched. Older children with autism may also have speech and language impediments, such as grammatical errors, repeating words, failing to understand humour or other emotions, and speaking in an abnormal tone. Children with autism also tend to avoid eye contact and will not use gestures to explain how they’re feeling, making them seem robotic-like in nature. It is also not uncommon for a child to have difficulty adapting to change – even something as simple as furniture being moved.

If you suspect that your child might have autism, or if you have any concerns relating to your child’s development, it’s important to address this with your family physician or paediatrician.