Could it be Autism?

What is autism and what are the signs of autism? ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and autism are terms used to describe complex disorders within the brain development.

Previously they were sub types, but are now grouped in one diagnosis of ASD. Autism may be associated with intellectual disability, motor skill degradation or difficulties, physical issues such as the inability to sleep and gastrointestinal problems.

Autism can have roots in early brain development, the most common signs of autism shows up between two and three years of age.

People with autism in Australia are now 31% of NDIS participants, being the majority.

A long while ago, if asked on what causes autism, the answer would have been “no clue.” There is not one single cause to autism, just like there is not just one type of autism. In the last five years, researchers have discovered rare gene changes, associated with autism. Most cases may appear as genes that are at risk for mutation and environmental factors. Certain stresses may increase a child’s risk to autism, such as events around birthing. Such factors could relate to the age of the mother and father, illness during pregnancies and certain difficulties of birthing. Researchers are examining the role of the immune system in autism.

What is Autism?

Among the definitions centered around Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they all define Autism as a life-long neurodevelopmental disability with onset before 36 months and characterised by:

  • Impairments in reciprocal social interactions
  • Impairments in verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.

These disorders are characterised, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

Autism originates during early brain development, with it’s most perceptive symptoms emerging be-tween 2 and 4 years of age.

Diagnosing Autism

Formal and informal diagnosis.

Informal diagnosis:

This is when a parent notices that their child is showing unusual behaviors such as failing to make eye contact, not responding to his or her name or playing with toys in unusual, repetitive ways. You might find it hard also to engage with a child with Autism.

This may be then followed up by a visit to your local G.P for a referral to a pediatrician.
Be aware there are a lot of Autism Myths and Misconceptions.

Developmental Milestones

Expected by the end of 12 months

  • Watches faces intently, responds to other people’s expressions of emotion
  • Smiles, imitates some facial expressions, follows moving object with eyes
  • Begins to babble, imitates sounds and words, brings hand to mouth
  • Has single words like “dada”, repeats sounds or gestures for attention
  • Turns head toward direction of sound, responds to own name
  • Pushes down on legs when feet placed on a firm surface; raises head and chest when lying on stomach
  • Smiles at mother or primary care-givers voice, prefers them over all others
  • Can sit up without assistance, can pull self up to stand, walks holding on to furniture
  • Waves ‘bye-bye’ and points to objects

By 24 months

  • Walks alone, with support can negotiate stairs and furniture, carries and pulls toys while walking
  • Has several single words by 15 to 18 months; uses simple phrases by 24 months
  • Imitates behaviour of others, excited about company of other children

By 36 months

  • Uses 4-5 word sentences, understands most sentences and instructions
  • Imitates adults and playmates, expresses affection openly, separates easily from parents
  • Sorts objects by shape and colour
  • Plays make believe
  • Climbs well, runs, kicks a ball, negotiates stairs unaided

Seek advice if by end of 12 months

  • Does not pay attention to or frightened of new faces
  • Does not smile, does not follow moving object with eyes
  • Does not babble, laugh and has difficulty bringing objects to the mouth
  • Has no words
  • Does not turn head to locate sounds and appears not to respond to loud noises
  • Does not push down on legs when feet placed on a firm surface
  • Does not show affection to primary care-giver, dislikes being cuddled
  • Does not crawl, cannot stand when supported
  • Does not use gestures such as waving or pointing



Seek advice if by the end of 24 months

  • Cannot walk by 18 months or walks only on his toes, cannot push a wheeled toy
  • Does not speak; does not imitate actions, cannot follow simple instructions
  • Does not appear to know the function of common household object such as a telephone by 15 months

Seek advice if by the end of 36 months

  • Very limited speech, does not use short phrases, has difficulty in understanding simple instructions
  • Has little interest in other children, has difficulty separating from mother or primary care-giver
  • Difficulty in manipulating small objects
  • Has little interest in ‘make-believe’ play
  • Frequently falls, has difficulty with stairs
Formal diagnosis:

This requires you meeting with your local G.P who will then refer you to a pediatrician where screening questions and observations would be applied.

Presently, there is no medical test that can diagnose autism. Instead, specially trained physicians and psychologists administer autism-specific behavioral evaluations.

The areas that are assessed include

Cognition Ability (learning, knowledge and understanding)

Communication (language and non-verbal)

Social interaction

Behavioural (restricted and repetitive)

Adaptive skills


Routine well visits with your Doctor

From birth to at least 36 months of age, every child should be screened for developmental milestones during routine well visits with your local G.P. Such visits should:

  • Review your child’s developmental milestones.
  • Ensure that your child receives all needed immunisations.
  • Provide age-appropriate screening tests, such as blood pressure and vision tests.
  • Perform any needed laboratory tests such as a lead poisoning check.
  • Explain the results of any tests and procedures.
  • If treatment is necessary, explain the options thoroughly.
  • Answer your questions.
  • Make referrals to specialists if needed.
  • Records in the medical record the care your child received.


A diagnosis is not a medical examination:

you don’t need to be examined physically and shouldn’t be asked for any samples, such as blood.

A typical diagnostic evaluation involves a multi-disciplinary team including a

paediatrician, psychologist, speech and language pathologist and occupational therapist.

Genetic testing may likewise be recommended, as well as screening for related medical issues such as sleep difficulties. This type of comprehensive evaluation helps parents understand as much as possible about their child’s strengths and needs.


Here is a brief guide/reference of some other technical terms that you may commonly hear.

Simular to autism but with excellent verbal skills. Often referred to as “little professor syndrome” because of high intelligence and an obsessive fixation on specific topics of knowledge.  The diagnostic criteria changed in May 2013 so now Asperger’s is referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The loss of social and communication skills, but usually more dramatic and developing later than in autism. Can also display significant loss in motor (muscle) skills.

ADHD stands for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and is characterised by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.  This can also be referred to as ADD, attention decifit disorder.  READ MORE

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a developmental disability caused by damage to the developing brain during pregnancy or shortly after birth.  Affected children usually have abnormal muscle tone as well as uncoordinated control of movements or postures.

Cerebral refers to the brain.  Palsy can mean weakness or paralysis or lack of muscle control.


Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21 is a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development.


The inability to discriminate the sounds of letters, which also makes spelling, writing and speech difficult. It is the most misunderstood of all disorders because it is incorrectly perceived as a reading problem owing to mental reversal or transposition of letters.

An anxiety disorder characterised by a pattern of rituals or obsessive thinking to a point it interferes with everyday life.

Characterised by openly hostile and defiant behaviour, usually towards authority figures.

Uncontrollable, sudden, repetitive and purposeless muscle or verbal tics.

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Through The Flashcards Early Intervention program my son who was non-verbal and had a global developmental delay is now verbal and has age appropriate academic skills!

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