On the Spectrum: Recognizing Signs as a Parent

For a lot of parents, the idea that their child might be on the autism spectrum can be troubling, to say the least. Not only do you not want to think there could be anything “wrong” with your child, but you also don’t want to face the reality of what happens next if and when they do get diagnosed, such as therapies, interventions, medications, and an overall new approach to living.

Of course, the reality is that even if your child is on the spectrum there really is nothing “wrong” with them. In fact, many autistic children and children on the spectrum have some truly special gifts that other children do not! Resetting your mindset to see “the spectrum” as a tool to help your child, rather than a diagnostic tool that tells you how “wrong” he or she is, is absolutely the first thing you must do. Once you adjust your perspective, than the rest comes much more easily and naturally.

Part of this mindset shift needs to take place before a “diagnosis” is made so that you can start openly and honestly looking for spectrum signs. And, remember, the term “diagnosis” doesn’t need to become part of you or your child’s vocabulary. Because “diagnosis” often carries a negative connotation, denoting that something is wrong or abnormal, consider using labels sparingly. In reality, every step along the autism spectrum is just an opportunity for you to get to know your child, and their unique needs, better — and that’s a positive outcome for everyone.

Below are a few signs to look for if you feel like your child might be “on the spectrum”. None of these are meant to be an official be-all-end-all ruling. Instead, consider them guide posts to help you and your child navigate living the best, healthiest life possible.

  1. Non-responsive when calling his or her name, almost like they can’t hear you
  2. Has difficulty keeping eye contact and has limited or irregular facial expressions
  3. Has difficulty showing or expressing how he or she feels
  4. Limited understanding or connection with how other people are feeling
  5. Avoids physical contact with family and plays alone regularly
  6. Limited or reduced speech and language skills, including an inability or disinterest with typical conversations
  7. Will repeat words and phrases he or she hears, but without an understanding of what they mean or how to use them
  8. Tends to talk using different rhythms and tones, including singing or more robotic sounds
  9. Struggles with basic social interactions, choosing improper behavior that can include aggression, disruption, and total disinterest
  10. Has difficulty engaging with other people based on the nonverbal cues they are providing
  11. Has difficulty understanding or responding to basic questions or directions
  12. Often repeats motions and movements, including rocking and spinning, as well as potentially harmful activities, like biting
  13. Wants to maintain very specific routines throughout the day and is disoriented or angry when these routines are broken
  14. Seems to have issues with coordination and will often choose movements that look odd or appear uncomfortable
  15. Focuses on small or minute details of an object rather than grasping the larger picture of what something is and what it does, including being abnormally intense (or fixating) on one thing in particular
  16. Appears to be hypersensitive or overly sensitive to things like light and sound
  17. Shows signs of being either avert to physical touch or hypersensitive to pain
  18. Chooses to not take part in typical childhood play, including imaginative games
  19. Shows very specific preferences in terms of food, sometimes avoiding items because of texture

Although it can feel scary, recognizing that your child might need help in order to live their best life possible is actually empowering. Take your time exploring the possibilities so that you can find the best outcome for your child.

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