4 years ago when we were taking my son for his checkup we were sure it will be speech delay. We had exhaustively gone over the “Signs of Autism” Checklist and he was just meeting 2 of the 10 points listed. To be honest, deep inside we were scared. We were praying for anything other than Autism. But unfortunately the diagnosis was Autism. If you are a little bit concerned about your kid’s development, it is never too early to discuss it with your Pediatrician.
Over the past few years a lot of people ask me how to tell if it’s Autism and not just speech delay. I end up telling them what our child psychologist told us and also some things I have learnt over time.
Bear it in mind that I am not a licensed professional but a parent of an ASD kid. This is just a list of my 4 year-long observations which might help other parents of kids like mine look in the right direction and get help.
-A kid with a speech delay will try his/her best to let you know what he/she wants. Even if they can’t say the words, there will be clear sounds. They are adamant and will not give in until they get what they want.
-They will point and look at in the direction of the things they want and will keep on pointing till you take notice.
-Their eye contact is well-defined. They will look at you and point/look at the thing they want.
-Responding to his/her name is good.
-Kids with just speech delay will show all kinds of emotions. They have clear facial expression to show if they are sad, angry, mad or excited.
-Even if you don’t say a word they can tell you are angry or happy by looking at your facial expressions and body language.
-If they want something they will exhaust all the tools available like sounds, pointing, gestures, pulling you, pushing you etc. to get it.
-They might be shy in initially but once they warm up, they love to socialize.
-Whenever someone new enters the room, they take notice either by looking up, running up to them or even greeting them.
-A kid on the spectrum may/may not point to the object they need. The eye contact is not well-defined. They expect the caregiver to know what they want. They do not follow-up on their request.
-The kid might have some words or phrases but does not know the true meaning of them. Instead of actually knowing what it means, he might just be repeating what ever the caregiver is saying. You might hear some words but never hear them again. Also they might say a few phrases for a few weeks but then they disappear.
-They cannot carry out simple commands like. “Get your Shoes” or “Give me so and so”
-They do not fully understand facial expressions and body language so they cannot tell if you are angry or excited just by looking at your face. If someone comes inside the room they don’t even notice.
-They might get happy/ sad for no reason. At times they display inappropriate behavior. Unlike typical kids they do not run to greet the parents when they come home from outside.
-They cannot sustain full eye contact when talked to and feel comfortable looking elsewhere. Even if you try to talk right in front of their face, they will not be able to sustain proper eye contact.
-Responding to his/her name is very low.
-There is little/ no socializing. They prefer to play on their own and if they do play with a peer they will want to play their own way. There is little to no imaginative play and you will find it hard for them to take turns. He/She might have an obsession to line-up toys instead of playing with them or flip the cars and just roll the wheels for hours, meaning they do not know the proper function of the toy.
-There will be some kind of repetitive behavior (stim) like arm flapping, rocking, spinning, tapping, sensory issues etc. Also their motor skills are times affected due to bad posture, weak core muscles, poor coordination.
-He/She might be sensitive to light, sounds, smells etc. They might get overwhelmed in a crowded area or over their ears when ever they hear a loud sound. Some kids also close their eyes when there is a bright light. They have difficulty handling different textures and for this reason might not touch some foods. This might contribute to the reason that they are picky eaters.
I hope the above mentioned points will help you get an idea how speech delay differs from autism. Also your kid might not be Autistic or Speech delayed and there might be some underlying reasons to his development/behavior like Sensory Processing Disorder, low muscle-tone or Apraxia or it might be a combination of two.
So its best to forget the fear of labels and find the right diagnoses early on and work on it with full swing so that you and your child can enjoy life to its fullest.
(DISCLAIMER: These are my views and should be taken for information and education purposes only. Not two on kids on the spectrum are alike. If you think someone you know needs help, please talk to the concerned Pediatrician today.)