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Autism Spectrum Disorders: Age-By-Age Guide

Infants

Babies with an ASD may not cuddle with their parents, and may arch their backs when they’re picked up. They may not respond to a parent’s smile or make eye contact. A baby with an ASD may not respond to her name by the time she turns one or point at objects to show interest (like pointing to a cat crossing the street) or look at objects that parents are pointing to. During the first year of life, it’s too early for a child to be diagnosed with an ASD, but parents may have a strong hunch that something is amiss with their child.  Even without a diagnosis, parents who recognize warning signs should talk to a pediatrician about early intervention treatment.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Unlike most toddlers, a child with an ASD may not engage in pretend-play -- pretending to bathe a doll or feed an action figure, for example -- by 18 months. He may not say single words by 15 months or two-word phrases by the time he is two, the way most kids do. If he does speak, he may parrot or repeat what other people say without understanding what it means. He may give unrelated or inappropriate answers to questions. About 25 percent of children will seem to have normal development until about 18 months, after which they will gradually or suddenly start lagging. Children with ASDs may have trouble making friends and perceiving what other people are feeling, based on their body language and facial expressions. By age two, a diagnosis of an ASD by an experienced medical professional can be considered reliable, according to the CDC.

School-Age Children

Many kids with an ASD have been diagnosed by the time they’re ready for grade school, and hopefully they will have undergone treatment to help them develop communication skills and appropriate behavior. Still, some symptoms are likely to persist. School-age children with ASDs may be out of step socially and struggle to make friends, partly because they are unable to show empathy and partly because they don’t always understand what’s appropriate to say or do. That’s why it’s important for school-age kids to continue to receive instruction that will help them learn how to act in social situations and help them make friends during elementary school.  

The Teen Years

Many autism-related symptoms and behavior issues improve somewhat by the teen years, but unfortunately a host of new challenges may arise as a child with an ASD goes through puberty. After all, adolescence brings stress and confusion on its own, and this may be compounded in kids with ASDs so they may need extra help dealing with their budding sexuality and their chaotic emotions; otherwise, teens with ASDs may act out their tension and confusion with anger or aggression, especially if they feel out of sync with their peers. To help a child succeed at school, it’s also important for kids with ASDs to receive instruction on how to manage practical matters such as organization of schoolwork, recreational activities, work experience, and getting to and from school.

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