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Autism Overview: What should I do if I think my child has a developmental problem or autism?

National Institutes of Health - Eunice Kennedy Shriver, National Institute of Health and Human Development

Tell your child’s health care provider immediately if you think something is wrong.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)13, “Pediatricians should listen carefully to parents discussing their child’s development.  [Parents] are reliable sources of information and their concerns should be valued and addresses immediately.” 

Your child’s health care provider will note your comments and concerns, will ask some other questions, and will determine the best plan of action.  In some cases, the health care provider will ask you to complete a questionnaire about your child to get more specific information about symptoms.  To rule out certain conditions, the health care provider will also test your child’s hearing and check your child’s lead level before deciding on a course of action.

If red flags are present, and if the lead and hearing tests show no problems, your child’s health care provider may refer you to a specialist in child development or another specialized health care professional.  The specialist will conduct a number of tests and will determine whether or not your child has autism or an ASD. 

What if I don’t notice any symptoms?

If you don’t report any of these signs, your child’s health care provider will continue to check for problems at every well-baby and well-child visit.14  If your child’s health care provider does not routinely check your child with such tests, you should ask that he or she do so.

In this “Developmental Screening,” the provider asks questions related to normal development that can help measure your child’s specific progress.  Typically, these questions are similar to the red flags listed earlier.  Based on your answers, the health care provider may send your child for further evaluation.
The AAP recommends15 that health care providers ask questions about different aspects of development.  These questions include (but are not limited to) those listed here.
Does your child…15

  • Not speak as well as other children his/her age?
  • Have poor eye contact?
  • Act as if he/she is in his/her own world?
  • Seem to “tune out” others?
  • Not smile when smiled at?
  • Seem unable to tell you what he/she wants, and so takes your hand and leads you to what he/she wants, or gets it him/herself?
  • Have trouble following simple directions?
  • Not play with toys in a usual way?
  • Not bring things to you to “show” you something?
  • Not point to interesting things or direct your attention to items of interest?
  • Have unusually long or severe temper tantrums?
  • Show an unusual attachment to objects, especially “hard” ones, such as a flashlight or key chain, instead of “soft” ones, such as a blanket or stuffed animal?
  • Prefer to play alone?
  • Not pretend or play “make believe” (if the child is older than age two)?




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