Worried that your grandchild isn't speaking at age two? Concerned that something just seems off about the way your young granddaughter interacts with others? In addition to height and weight milestones from birth to age 5, a child should also reach milestones in how he plays, learns, speaks, and acts. Any delays could indicate signs of an autism spectrum disorder—a group of developmental disabilities caused by a failure of certain areas of the brain to work together.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 88 American children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can affect a child’s functional ability to communicate, interact, behave and learn.
“There are no clear signs of autism at birth although autism is likely to start before birth,” says epidemiologist Matthew Maenner, Ph.D., of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The signs of autism usually aren’t evident until toddler time, he says. At around 18 months most toddlers use several words and say new words often. They show affection to familiar people and they may be wary of people they don’t know.
“Although signs specific to autism may not be evident until the second year of life, it’s important that parents track their child’s development from a very early age, and grandparents can help,” says Dr. Maenner.
A recent study led by Dr. Maenner while at the University of Wisconsin—Madison found that the identification of certain symptoms in children, including poor nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors, was associated with earlier diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Kids who displayed multiple behavioral symptoms were diagnosed more quickly, as well.
Although doctors can reliably diagnose autism by the time kids are about 2 years old, research shows that fewer than half the children with autism are identified by age 5.
Here’s where you come in.
Help your grandchildren's parents see the early signs and guide them to the resources they’ll need.
A child with autism spectrum disorder might:
The sooner you can identify a child having a problem, the sooner he can receive the support to help him succeed and reach his potential, says Dr. Maenner. Research shows that early intervention treatment, such as therapy to help a child with walking, talking, and interacting with others, can greatly improve a child’s development.
What you can do
“It’s important to recognize that the signs of autism aren’t always clear and that identifying that a toddler has autism is a difficult and emotional process for the family,” says Dr. Maenner. “You can support the parents by asking if they have any concerns, pointing out the positive things your grandchild is doing and by helping them complete a milestone checklist.”
If you think there may be a problem, do not feel helpless—you can:
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.