Autism Awareness Month: Signs and symptoms

04/10/2008 at 12:00 PM ET

Autism_logo_2 Chances are, sometime in the last decade, you either became a family directly affected by autism or came to know one who was.  And while no one can say for certain why since the 1970s the rate of autism has risen from every 1-in-10,000 children to its current rate of 1-in-150, it is increasingly clear that we have an epidemic on our hands:  More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than will be diagnosed with pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS — combined

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know that autism knows no boundaries.  Several celebrity babies have been diagnosed, including Holly Robinson Peete‘s son Rodney, Jr., 10, Jenny McCarthy‘s son Evan Joseph, turning 6 next month, and Toni Braxton‘s son Diezel Ky, 5.  So as the world marks Autism Awareness Month, we at CBB wanted to do our part to help shine a spotlight on this complex neurobiological disorder that is touching so many lives, across so broad a spectrum and so profoundly.

Click ‘continue reading’ for more.

Autism, as defined by the Autism Association of America, is a complex developmental disability resulting from a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain.  Children and adults with autism often have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities.  Because autism is considered a ‘spectrum’ disorder, however, the degree of those difficulties vary greatly from person to person.  Children at the lower end of the autism spectrum can be profoundly affected, speaking little or not at all and engaging in self-injury, while children who are considered to have high-functioning autism may be nearly indistinguishable from their non-autistic peers in many settings. 

Part of what makes parents, especially first-time parents, unsure of when to seek help is the fact that so many indicators of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are difficult to distinguish from that of normal, quirky toddler behavior.  There are several warning signs that warrant follow-up with a medical professional, however.  They are: 

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms — also known as ‘stimming,’ this includes hand-flapping, twirling objects, spinning in a circle, etc. etc.
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects, like the wheels of a car or the hinges of a door.

In addition, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five ‘red flag’ behaviors pediatricians should inquire about during the developmental screening portion of your child’s well-baby visit.  They are:

  • Failure to babble or coo by 12-months
  • Failure to gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12-months
  • Failure to say single words by 16-months
  • Failure to say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24-months
  • Demonstrated loss of any language or social skill, at any age. 

Still, there are even more behaviors that indicate a potential problem, including an insistence on sameness and resistance to change, laughing and/or crying for no apparent reason, prolonged tantrums and sustained odd play.  With so many signs and symptoms to be wary of, it’s no wonder parents find themselves feeling confused and overwhelmed if and when their child begins exhibiting the behaviors outlined above.  To help mitigate against that confusion, the non-profit organization First Signs and advocacy group Autism Speaks last fall unveiled the ASD Video Glossary, which contains over 100 video clips of children — some of whom were later deemed neurotypical, and some who were later diagnosed as having autism.  It is a groundbreaking resource that allows parents to see with their own two eyes the subtle differences that are often at play in children who are on the spectrum, and those who are not. 

While its incredibly scary to consider the possibility that your child isn’t developing normally, its also incredibly important that if you do have concerns, you address them head on.  It cannot be stressed enough:  Do not put it off, and do not ignore your instincts.  Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention is key in achieving the best possible outcome for children with autism;  Studies also show that when parents suspect something is wrong with their child, they are often correct.  The sooner services can get started, the better.  Next week, CBB will offer an overview of those services, as well as a discussion of the various theories about what causes autism.

In the meantime, for more information about autism, please visit:

Autism Speaks

Autism Society of America

Talk About Curing Autism

National Institute of Mental Health 


Share this story:

Your reaction:

Add A Comment reserves the right to remove comments at their discretion.

Showing 19 comments

Tracy on

Bravo CBB for helping to raise awareness! Every day is Autism Awareness in our home,as two of our four children have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, be we applaud those helping to bring awareness to the world. Thank you!!

Jess on

A family friend’s six-year-old son is autistic. It’s really difficult coping because of his autism – especially hard seen as they have an elder (step) son with autism and a younger daughter.

Thank you for this post. It’s really thoughtful of you to make this post to highlight autism.

Shawna on

I definitely think Autism Awareness is a good thing but I wish that we wouldn’t always hear about ABA and other methods to try and force autistic children to fit into our mold of how they should be. My neice and nephew are autistic and my sister has chosen not to use methods like ABA (they do speech and occupational therapy). She homeschools the children and lets them learn and grow at their own rate and they are doing wonderfully.

Also there are people who find the puzzle ribbon offensive as it is insinuating that there is a piece missing from an autistic child. There are no pieces missing, they are perfect in their own way.

Christine on

I am a long time, regular CCB reader.
I am a mother of 3 and my middle child has autism.

My advice would be to go with your gut if you suspect ANYTHING.
And if someone suggests any delays in your child do not get offended, angry or upset.
I know too many people who have told me “If only someone had said something to me – we could have intervened to much earlier…”

Thanks for including Autism Awareness onto your site.

nosoupforyou on

Thank you. I am a social worker and over half of my client’s have autism.

Destiny on

I have a question. All of the children that I know who have been diagnosed with autism seem to be boys. I know that this is not a male only disablitly but is there statistically a higher percentage of males diagnosed with autism than females? I’m just curious.

doeadear on

It is amazing to me now how much awareness there is, even though so much of Autism remains a mystery. My older sister will be 50 this year, and we didn’t actually start saying she was Autistic until about 20 years ago. The doctors really didn’t know what to do, and she was put in class with special needs children who were the exact opposite of her special needs. My mother always had this sense of shame about my sister and her “mystery problem” when we were growing up. I am glad that so many young children will have the chance my sister never had growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s.

Jill on

My 5 yr old son has an apt. for testing coming up – finally! His entire life I’ve thought something seemed “off” and not until his teachers at church (who are special ed teachers) and his preschool teachers said something about it, too, would my ped. listen to me. I don’t know what diagnosis he will receive, but we’re already making plans to homeschool him this fall for Kindergarten because he definitely does not fit well in a traditional school environment. I’m excited to think that soon we may have answers I have long sought…

Dawne on

There is a movie that shows on Lifetime called “Miracle Run.” It’s a true story about twin boys with Autism. I work with Autistic children and this movie is very factual. I would reccomend it to anyone who wants to know more about Autism. One of my favorite things about this movie is that deters the belief that Autistic children can not lead normal lives. This is a lie! Autistic children, who have intervention early enough can lead totally normal lives! I encourage you to check your guide and watch this movie the next time it’s on.
To those who have a child or family member with Autism, never give up on them. They can learn. They can lead normal lives.Get them proper education and you will give them a life.

Tracy on

Destiny – Autism is four times more common in boys than girls, with the current statistic being every 1 in 94 boys. We do not know why. Both of my children with an Autistic Spectrum disorder are boys. For more information, please go to

Michelle on

Thanks so much for posting this important issue on your site. My 13 year old son was diagnosed at 22 months old. It is slow going, but I have to say that I have been blessed with a wonderful so who has taught me so much about unconditional love. Cameron is a gift and I wouldn’t trade him for any “typical” child in the world.

Niki on

I have 3 great children, one of which has autism. It’s a hard struggle some days, but it’s also one that I’d not change for the world. The only thing that I would change is the comments, the stares and the remarks that I get from total strangers when he has a meltdown, or talks to himself or any other “not normal” behavior he has. He’s NORMAL to me, he’s a great kid, and our family is blessed to have him.

My thing to anyone that has an issue with him or any other autistic child is walk a mile in their shoes, walk a mile in the parents shoes, and then pass judgement. If it’s not your child, then how do you know what the family goes through every day?

nosoupforyou on

Most autistic children do not live totally normal lives, even with early intervention, and my agency provides it.

However, that is not to say there is not hope or improvements.

nosoupforyou on

I have 3 “clients” all boys with autism from the same family.

Their mother got tired of the comments like “I wouldn’t let my child behave that way,” so she took action.

When she hears those uninformed, rude statements, she hands out cards with the web site for the Autism Society of America.

She also sent me this link to “Autism Every Day.”

It can open some eyes on what it’s like to live with Autism.

zoya gautam on

[-the prisoner had broken the jail to find freedom.In the free world
he found that he was still a prisoner] ..

–can i share these lines with u please[they refer to autism]–

“Expression in slow motion”..

Many lilies and hollyhocks
gerberas and chrysanthymums
scents of muffled up fancies flowed
musky wishful imaginings,flowered

and blossomed in the enclosures
of my mind.
A canopy of reason
to escape the acid rain

A hedge of hawthorn,
to resist being trampled upon
and that done,
a good ol’ garden gate,

which however,
those tresspassing thoughts
to mingle and congregate.

my hedge of hawthorn,
took a long long while
to find its full expression,

joked someone
is it autistic,
artistic,may be!
and yet i got drawn

to a moment, bygone
when a crown, the Christ had worn
of the thorns of hawthorn !../original/©2008 z.g//
web address/

Kristen on

I think autistic children do need help, often intense help. Other children do too.

I don’t like the video “Autism Every Day.” They talk only negative in that video.

There used to be a video up called “Neurotypicalism Every Day” and I wish it still was – it was a parody of the Autism Speaks video and it was a good one.

But since it’s not up, let me suggest this. Go watch several episodes of Super Nanny to see how horrible days with neurotypical children can be.

It’s not just autism people, and some autistics don’t want to be “normal.” Go Google “neurodiversity.”

pickel on

Thank you so much for this post. Most of us in the autism community are working hard this month to not only raise awareness but to help build communities (like one of my new favorites, and help families that are struggling. Like the above poster, Jill, there are many families out there still just receiving diagnoses and floundering but there is help everywhere.

Thanks for taking time to do great research and get the facts right, many websites who are reporting on autism are not. And one of the most important things you stated is that you HAVE to get early intervention.

Anonymous on

Elyse Bruce is raising awareness and funds for autism with her “Countdown to Midnight” CD. It’s got awesome music on it, and best of all, the money gathered DOES NOT go to Autism Speaks, an organization considered offensive to most autistics.

Pass the word.

Jared Spurbeck on

I’ve learned a lot about autism in the past few months, because of my autistic girlfriend (whom I love dearly). Here are some things that I found out:

A lot of “early intervention” methods are arguably abusive, and would be considered abuse if they were used on children who weren’t autistic. They don’t “cure” your child of autism so much as make her into a scared puppy, who does what she’s told because she’s afraid of being punished again.

Not all of them are this way — some training is helpful, because things that come naturally to normal people do not come naturally to autistic people. But some of these methods are pretty bad. They don’t respect autistic people as people; they just see them as broken. And they’re not broken — just different — but you might break them by “intervening” in the wrong way.

Your autistic child will never live the life that you lead, but it doesn’t mean that she can’t be happy. She’ll just be happy in her own way. Maybe it would help to find out what that way that she can be happy is, instead of trying to force her to become a child that you can be “proud” of because of how much she is like yourself.

And don’t think that her autism makes you a saint, or gives you carte blanche to do whatever you want to her. “Normal” kids can wreak a lot of havoc on your home and your nerves, and are probably a heck of a lot more likely to commit violent crimes, have premarital sexual encounters or do drugs. The Enron and AIG execs were “normal” people, and so was President Bush (or whichever politician you choose to despise).

Ask for the help that you need, and let people know when you’re hurting inside. But put your child’s needs first, and relate to her as a whole person, or neither of you will be happy with your relationship.

From Our Partners

Sign up for our daily newsletter and other special offers.
    Choose your newsletters
Thank you for signing up! Your request may take up to one week to be processed.
    see all newsletters