Autism and Child Development

by Eliza Martinez

Autism is a disorder that interferes with some aspects of normal development in children. There is no cure for autism, and early intervention is important for making sure your child has the best chance of living successfully with the condition. Understanding how autism affects development can help you monitor her growth and alert her pediatrician to any concerns you have and can help you overcome the obstacles that raising an autistic child presents.


The sooner your child receives a diagnosis of autism, the sooner you can begin treatment. In most cases, autism is diagnosed by age 3, according to Wendy L. Stone, Ph.D., in the "Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development." There isn't a medical test for autism, so your child's doctor will likely make the diagnosis based on his observations and your reports regarding her behavior. Since autism has effects on development, prompt intervention is vital for helping your child stay on track or catch up as much as she can.

Parts of Development

When your child's pediatrician monitors her development, he uses milestone markers in several realms. This includes cognitive, social, language and physical development. Most of the time, autism effects social skills and communication and causes abnormal behavior. The effects range in severity from mild to acute, which is how your child's doctor will place her on the spectrum. You might start seeing signs of the disorder while your child is still a baby, but in many cases they don't appear until the toddler years.

What You'll See

Each child's case of autism is different, though there are some developmental delays that are common to the disorder. If your baby doesn't respond to you when you call her name, avoids eye contact, repeats the same word or phrase over and over, doesn't point or play pretend games, is delayed in speech and engages in repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping, she could have autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your child might also have an intense reaction to a change in routine or a new situation as well as a failure to understand emotional cues.

Promoting Development

While your autistic child may always struggle to keep up with her peers, intervention and treatment are important for helping her develop as close to normal as possible. Applied behavior analysis is commonly used to treat autism and involves behavior modification and reinforcement of desired behaviors, notes the University of Michigan Health System. The approach is ideal for getting autistic children on track with development because it is an intense and structured program that teaches them how to behave in different situations and how to interact with the people around them.

About the Author

Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.

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