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September 1, 2016

How Do I Know if My Child has Autism?

“So what is it that you do?” – this is a very simple question, but not easy to for me to answer. In polite conversation I am most likely to respond generally with something like “I work in education” or “I work with kids with Autism.” This is usually a sufficient response. The true answer is a bit more complex: I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who specializes in working with children and families affected by Autism spectrum disorder. That is a mouthful and typically requires some additional explanation. Before talking about what it is that I do, I’d like to talk more about the complex population of people that I have the pleasure of working with.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or Autism are terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) specifies the criteria for a child to receive the diagnosis of ASD. In general, people with ASD have deficits in social interactions, communication and engage in restricted and/or repetitive patterns of behavior. Here are some examples:

Difficulties with Social Interactions:

 Poor eye contact
 Not responding to his/her name
 Not pointing out items of interest
 Prefers to be alone than around other people or children

Difficulties with Communication:

 Limited or no language
 Difficulty starting or having a conversation
 Not playing make-believe with toys

Repetitive or Obsessive Behaviors:

 Repetitive play (e.g., spinning toy car wheels, lining up toys, etc.)
 Unusual obsessions (e.g., only wanting to wear truck shirts, only wanting to use the color green, etc.)
 Repetitive speech/sounds or body movements (e.g., hand flapping, jumping in place, etc.)

It is called a spectrum due to the varying degrees in which each individual’s behaviors present. (If you’ve met one person with autism…you’ve meet one person with autism…) If you do not know someone with Autism well, you will most likely think about a character from movie or TV (Rain Man, played by Dustin Hoffman; Max from the show Parenthood; or my personal favorite: Sheldon from Big Bang Theory). Each individual is unique and just like everyone else, have their own strengths and weaknesses.

How is Autism diagnosed?

An official diagnosis of Autism spectrum disorder must be given by a specially trained physician or psychologist using autism-specific behavioral evaluations. This could be a combination of parent questionnaires, observation of the individual and direct assessment of the individual’s skills. Before a child is seen by specialist, parents and caregivers are usually the first to notice that something is not quite right.

When should you be concerned about your child’s development?

If you are a first time parent who does not have a background in child development, understanding developmental milestones or when they should occur is difficult. The CDC has put together a great training course with free videos and materials as part of their program “Learn the signs. Act early.”


When you are aware of what your child should be demonstrating, then you are better equipped to voice concerns to your child’s pediatrician and receive a referral to see a specialist. This is not an exhaustive list, but general information; contact your child’s pediatrician if you have questions or concerns about your child:

If by 12 months old, your child is not:

 Crawling
 Standing when supported
 Searching for things he sees you hide
 Saying single words like ‘mama’ or ‘dada’
 Pointing to things
 Waving

If by 18 months old, your child is not:

 Walking
 Showing things to others
 Saying at least 10 words
 Notices when a caregiver leaves or returns
 Imitating other’s actions

If by 24 months, your child is not:

 Putting 2 words together (ex. “drink juice” or “daddy up”)
 Following simple instructions (ex. “get your shoes”)
 Imitating actions and words of others

Monitoring your child’s development during the first few years of their life can make a huge difference in their future development. Children who are identified early for developmental delay can receive early intervention services to help set them up for more success later on in life. This is where my role as a BCBA comes into play, but more about that next time.

For more information about Autism, check out the following sites:

Autism Society

Autism Speaks

Autism Society of Colorado

National Autism Center

Contact Behavior Frontiers

To learn more about our ABA training and treatment programs, visit our website at: http://www.behaviorfrontiers.com/

To inquire about services for your child, please call our intake team at: 888-922-2843

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