Understanding the Signs: Should You Be Concerned About Autism?

Child at the park

By Paulette Cormier

As parents, we are first and foremost concerned with the health of our children. We want them to be physically healthy. We want their brains to be growing and developing as they should so they can learn the things they need to know and so they can thrive socially. We are the “experts” of our children. We know them better than anyone else and are aware of what they can do and cannot do. Chances are they are developing as they should, but how can we be sure?

We can compare our child’s abilities to other same-aged children but this is not always a reliable indicator. The same abilities (rolling over, sitting up, babbling, standing, walking, talking, etc.) appear at different times. These “developmental milestones” happen within certain time frames that are considered “normal.” For example, children typically learn to walk anywhere between nine and 15 months. If your child is not doing the same thing as your friend’s child, this is not an immediate sign for concern.

At regular medical appointments, your doctor should be asking you questions about your child to ensure development is on track. The Autism Speaks Canada website lists typical milestones for children between four months and five years of age. Before each scheduled appointment, you can examine the list and take the time to see if your child has met these milestones. If there are concerns, your doctor can begin to investigate earlier.

As the parent of a child with autism, I know how easy it is to brush off concerns. When my doctor would ask me if my child was showing evidence of a developmental milestone, I would truthfully say “yes.” In hindsight, I realized that although he sometimes did do these things, they were not as frequent as they should have been or expressed with as much motivation. While I should have voiced my concern that something seemed “not quite right,” I chose not to.

Several of the families I work with also tell me they had a feeling that something was wrong early on, but were reassured by family, friends, and even professionals that their child would probably “grow out of it.” It’s very difficult to be objective as a parent because, truthfully, we want everything to be developing normally and it is easy to let ourselves be consoled that everything is fine.

Some children are late bloomers and do catch up. However, it is a widely accepted fact that early intervention can have a profound influence on the quality of life for children with autism and their families. If you do have concerns, it’s best to bring these up with your doctor sooner rather than later.

Because the incidence of autism is on the rise (currently estimated at one in 165 children), there are long wait lists for funded diagnosis appointments and services. It’s important to remember that autism is a treatable disorder and the sooner you are able to give your child the support he or she needs, the better the chance for a good outcome.

What particular signs should prompt you to seek an evaluation for autism?

The Autism Speaks Canada website lists the following “early warning signs” for autism. If you see evidence of any of these, you should discuss this with your doctor:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age

As I mentioned earlier, there are often long wait lists for funded services in Ontario. One thing many parents do not know is that they are able to have their child evaluated and diagnosed (if necessary) by a psychologist working in private practice. If your doctor has indicated a need for concern, and waiting lists for funded evaluations are long, this may be something to consider. Although not inexpensive, this service is sometimes fully covered by employee benefit plans.

Paulette Cormier, B.A., B.Ed.
Parent Guide/Developmental Guide
RDI® Certified Program Consultant

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I founded Mums 'n Chums in 2009 after realizing that the area I live in was drastically underserviced as compared to surrounding areas for support and activities for growing families. Mums 'n Chums grew popular very quickly and I have been dedicated to nurturing that growth through frequent networking, social media engagement and in person meetups. By the end of its first year, Mums 'n Chums had close to 500 members and was receiving regular inquiries from fans outside of its service area, asking when we would be expanding to serve them as well. After much careful research and polling, I expanded the site in May of 2011 to cover the entire North end of the GTA (from Cambridge to Markham), areas I believe are still receiving far less attention than they deserve from other sites and family services. We also changed the focus from small scale local mom and tot meetups to more of an informative purpose, closing down our forum and adding several talented contributors to the blog. We do still offer several large scale family events per year, such as our popular Birthday Bash events and our Holiday Bash in December. Our contests have also become a member favourite, and we strive to offer amazing prizes from trusted brands like Babies R Us, La Roche Posay, Johnson's Baby and many more. In March of 2016, after months of work spent migrating all of the site's content to a new platform, Mums 'n Chums re-launched with its fresh, new look. The changes and expansion have proven a great success and we're still getting inquiries from several other cities within the Greater Toronto Area, whom we have decided to serve as well. I have built this site and its' reputation carefully and look forward to continuing its growth!