How to Recognize Aspergers in a Toddler

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According to the latest DSM, Asperger’s is no longer an official diagnosis although the term is still convenient to use; its symptoms instead fall under the milder end/higher functioning side of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).[1] It can be difficult to detect ASD/Asperger’s in children because they can be relatively high functioning; a child with “Asperger’s” often has a high level of language development and a normal IQ. However, you may be able to recognize a toddler on the high functioning end of the spectrum by watching his social interaction and behaviors. If you identify symptoms related to “Asperger’s”/ASD in your child, contact your pediatrician.


Checking Social Behavior

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    Examine the toddler’s social interactions. Difficulties interacting with others is one of the main features of ASD.[2] As such, carefully observing how he interacts with others can be a good way to recognize signs of Asperger’s/ASD.

    • Look for whether he misinterprets simple social cues such as turn taking during conversation, as this can be a sign of ASD.[3]
    • If he has trouble staying in social interactions, it may be a sign of Asperger’s/ASD. For example, the child may leave the room in the middle of playing with another child or otherwise be disruptive.[4]
    • Children with Asperger’s/ASD tend to prefer playing by themselves and may even get upset if another child approaches them. They may only interact with others when they want to talk about an interest or if they need something.
    • Possible signs of ASD include awkward social interactions such as consistently avoiding eye contact, a lack of body posture, gestures, and/or facial expressions.[5]
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    Examine his imaginative play. This type of playing is often different in a child with Asperger’s. For example, a child with Asperger’s may dislike, or struggle to understand social games. He may prefer games with a set script, such as acting out a favorite story or tv show, or he may enjoy creating fantasy worlds, but struggle with social role play.

    • In addition, he may appear to be ‘in his own world’ rather than seeking to play with others or may try to impose his choice of game on his playmates or otherwise act in a very one-sided manner.[6]
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    Watch for how he reads others. Although a young child with Asperger’s/ASD may have some sense of emotions at a conceptual level, he may have difficulty reading and interpreting others’ feelings in real social interactions, which tend to be fast paced.[7][8]

    • He may also have trouble understanding social boundaries such as need for privacy.
    • Disregard for other’s feelings may be interpreted as being insensitive but it is really beyond the child’s control.
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    Look at whom he chooses to socialize with. Those with Asperger’s/ASD tend to have great difficulty interacting with their peers.[9] A child who constantly seeks out an adult for conversation over another child may have Asperger’s/ASD.

    • Although toddlers may not always have much of a choice about who they interact with, try to create opportunities such as play dates, so you can try to get a sense of his interaction choices and social behavior.
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    Watch for monotonous speaking. One cue of Asperger’s/ASD is if the toddler (assuming he is speaking at this point) talks in a monotonous or flat tone.[10] In some cases this is more of an odd, or higher tone. How a child stresses words and the rhythm of speech may be impaired by Asperger’s/ASD.

    • Make sure you get a broad enough range of the toddler speaking to be sure that the monotonous speaking is relatively consistent across different contexts.
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    Watch for unusual language use. Be mindful of when your toddler starts joining words together and if language development is progressing normally. For most toddlers, including those with Asperger’s, this will be around age 2.[11] Although language development can be normal in young children with Asperger’s/ASD, the social context in which language is used is often atypical; for example, words may be repeated but not understood.[12]

    • You may notice a child with Asperger’s is highly skilled at language and very verbal. For example, he may list off every item in a room. However, speech may seem overly formal or scripted as a child with Asperger’s/ASD tends to use language to relay facts not convey thoughts or feelings.
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    Watch for interactions with teachers or daycare workers. Young children with ASD have often have difficulty deviating from routine. [13] One place routine may be broken is when the toddler interacts with teachers or daycare workers. As such, it is important, when attempting to recognize ASD in a toddler, to keep an eye out for how the toddler acts in this context.[14]

    • If you are not with the toddler during the day, you could ask the teacher or daycare worker to keep an eye out for certain behaviors (such as getting upset when asked to deviate from routine) and report back to you.
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    Examine question and answer behavior. Check to see if the toddler either answers his own questions or if he only answers questions but does not continue the conversation.[15] A young child with Asperger’s/ASD may only initiate questions on topics that interest him.


Examining Repetitive Behavior and Sensory Sensitivity

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    Watch for difficulty adapting to change. A young child with Asperger’s/ASD tends to not accept change well and prefers highly structured days and rules. These rules tend to be nonfunctional or somewhat arbitrary in that they could be broken or changed.[16]

    • If you tend to be in the same routines when interacting with your toddler, try changing things up and gauging his reaction to get a sense of whether he may have Asperger’s/ASD.
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    Look for obsessions over a particular area of interest. If you or others classify him as a “walking encyclopedia” on a given topic, that’s a tell-tale sign of Asperger’s/ASD. He may either be very focused on a particular subject or be very intensely into it.[17][18]

    • Your child’s interest in a particular area may be a sign of ASD if it is unusually intense or focused, especially when compared to others his age.
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    Observe repetitive motor behaviors. Young children with Asperger’s/ASD commonly show repetitive motor behaviors such as persistent hand twisting or finger tapping or even whole-body movements.[19] These behaviors tend to be longer and more ritualistic looking than tics, which are shorter in duration.[20]

    • A child with Asperger’s may also demonstrate difficulty in some motor skills such as catching and throwing a ball, for example. In general, he may appear clumsy or awkward in his movements. [21]
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    Look for unusual sensory reactions. Determine if the toddler has an abnormal reactions to touch, sight, smell, sound or taste, as this can be a sign of Asperger’s/ASD. [22]

    • Although sensory sensitivities vary, most frequently children with Asperger’s will experience intense reactions to an ordinary sensation.
    • However, although sensitive to many things, he may be insensitive to pain.[23]


Getting a Diagnosis and Treatment

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    Recognize you need a doctor to officially diagnose. Although you may recognize some telltale signs of ASD in your toddler, ultimately you need the professional discernment of a doctor or other qualified individual.[24]

    • Your doctor may choose to recommend tests to more thoroughly examine relevant potentially telling aspects of your toddler’s cognitive development.
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    Express your concern to your doctor. If you suspect your toddler is showing signs of ASD, tell your doctor. Try to have relevant information on hand such as if your child[25] :

    • Doesn’t respond to social interaction with a smile of happy emotional expression by 6 months of age.
    • Doesn’t mimic facial expressions or facial movements (such as sticking out your tongue and your toddler doing the same), or sounds, by 9 months of age.
    • Is not babbling or making cooing sounds by 12 months of age.
    • Isn’t making gestures such as pointing, by 14 months of age.
    • Has not uttered single words by 16 months of age or pairs of words by 24 months of age.
    • Doesn’t engage in imaginary play by 18 months of age.
    • Seems to be regressing in his social or verbal skills.
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    Realize you may be referred to a specialist. There are individuals who may specialize is diagnosing and/or treating ASD, such as child psychologists, pediatric neurologists, or developmental pediatricians. [26]

    • Keep in mind there is no single medical test to diagnose ASD, so try to remain patient as you and your doctor work through the diagnosis process.
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    Recognize that there is no cure but there are treatments. If you suspect your child has ASD, know that although he cannot be cured, there are different treatment options available. The aim of these treatments is to maximize your child’s ability to function day to day through reducing ASD symptoms and focusing on learning outcomes. Some treatment options include:[27]

    • Behavior and communication therapy in which the aim is either to reduce problematic behaviors and communication styles or to improve these areas by teaching new skills.
    • Family therapies in which the emphasis is on teaching the toddler’s family different ways to interact with the toddler to promote his social and emotional development.
    • Educational therapies that are highly structured individually tailored programs executed by a team of specialists who have expertise in communicating with and teaching individuals with ASD.
    • Medications such as antidepressants or antipsychotics can be somewhat effective in controlling symptoms such as anxiety and severe behavioral problems, respectively.


Via : WikiHow

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