I think my child has autism, what should I do?

If you suspect a child may have  Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is very important to act quickly to seek a diagnosis.

The child may display a range of behaviours to spark your concern, seem to be going backwards , losing developmental milestones or just be ‘not quite right’ compared to other children.

Some common triggers for concern – note the child may display all or only some of these behaviours and in varying degrees of severity –

  • Loss of speech – if a child has lost speech or seems to be going backwards with developmental milestones see a paediatrician immediately.
  • Language delay – the child may have low verbal skills for their age
    (A high functioning child may have a very advanced vocabulary for their age but use it out of context.)
  • Odd speech patterns and pitch of voice or echolalia (repeating back what has been said.)
  • Asking continual repetitive questions and wanting the same answer.
  • Obsessive behaviour – the child may have obsessive behaviour, rituals and routines. The child may play with the same objects or watch the same TV show or movie over and over. They will become very upset if they are not allowed to complete these routines or rituals.
  • The child may play with toys in an odd manner- i.e. lining up toys by colour, in rigid lines, play with parts of toys such as spinning the wheels, play with tags, buttons or eyes. The child may use toys as part of self-stimulation including chewing, flapping or tapping. Girls may play with dolls as imaginary friends. The child may act out the same scenes over and over.
  • Difficulty interacting with other children or adults – poor eye contact, dislike of physical touch, dislike of being in the same space as other people. The child may want to cuddle, but only on their own terms. The child may not know how to talk to others or ask how to play.
  • The child may be physically awkward, clumsy,  flexible or walk on their toes. They may have difficulty with skipping, jumping and throwing and catching a ball. The child may have poor muscle tone and tire easily.
  • The child may not use gestures or point to objects, may not look at something with their parent or carer (shared attention)
  • May not respond to their name or appear not to hear when being spoken to. (sometimes autism is picked up on after a referral for a hearing deficit)

Behaviours of concern

The child may have many behaviours of concern that seem odd, dangerous or unusual compared to other children including:

  • self-stimulating behaviour such as flapping or rocking
  • violent behaviour towards others
  • self-injurious behaviour (biting or hitting themselves, banging their head)
  • Behaviour that puts the child in harm’s way such as climbing, running away or a preoccupation with water.
  • The child may fly into a rage or tantrum for no apparent reason or over strange things. The tantrum may last a long time well after the event –i.e for many hours or even days.
  • The child may not cope with things that are different – i.e , moving furniture around in a room, driving to day care or school a different way may bring on tears or anxiety.
  • Toileting issues – the child may have issues with toileting and may not be toilet trained compared to other same age children. The child may soil themselves often or smear faeces.
  • The child may have very poor sleep patterns and difficulty settling to sleep. The child may get up in the night and roam around the house or may want to sleep during the day.
  • Dietary concerns – The child may be an extremely finicky eater, have a very poor diet and gag on certain textures or fixate on eating only certain foods.
  • The child may have a range of stomach problems or food intolerances.

Sensory concerns

The child may have many sensory problems such as

  • Aversion to loud noises- The child may put their fingers over their ears and hum to block out noise
  • Bright lights or patterns that are bold vivid or colourful – the child may put their fingers over their eyes
  • Smells- the child may have an aversion to strong perfume or cooked food, but may sniff other people or objects
  • Clothing- the child may hate wearing new clothes and prefer similar clothing each day. Tags or itchy fibres will be very irritating to the child.• Oral – the child may be constantly chewing or sucking objects toys or clothing and eat non-food items.
  • Touch- the child may be aversive to being touched lightly , but may seek out very deep firm pressure such as laying under heavy blankets or being hugged or held very tight.
  • Movement- the child may have a great need for movement and seek activities such as swings, trampolines, running around or climbing.
  • Pain -the child may have a very high pain threshold and may not indicate if they have injured themselves
  • Heat and cold- the child may have no awareness of heat/cold and not know how to dress appropriately for the weather – i.e. will leave a jumper on even on a hot day or when overheated , will not notice when it is cold outside or will prefer to be cooler.
  • Water- the child may hate washing their face, hands or hair and will not brush their teeth. However the child may love a very deep bath to soak in. The child may be preoccupied with bodies of water and jump in without warning.

If your child or a child you know is displaying these behaviours it is important to speak to a health professional about your concerns.

Ask a Maternal child health nurse, a paediatrician, or a GP for a referral to services that can diagnose autism. If you speak with a health professional and they are not concerned but you still feel something is not right with the child seek a second opinion.

  • Early diagnosis is critical to ensure the child can access the services they need.
  • Whilst waiting for diagnosis learn about ASD and services that are available• Seek support for the entire family – respite, counselling and other services will be needed for the family to be able to cope.
  • Start working with the child’s kinder or school to ensure the child and the teacher or care worker is receiving the supports they need to work with the child effectively.

Further information