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Is it autism?

Parents love—make that, adore—watching their little ones grow. Yet these early observations can sometimes spark concerns when moms and dads notice something unusual in the way a child interacts or communicates. Worried parents may even wonder, "Is it autism?"

The medical term for this developmental disorder is autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What are the signs?

In general, children with ASD may have difficulties in the following areas:

Social skills. Many kids with ASD have trouble with social interactions, such as making eye contact. They may not turn to look when someone calls their name or respond to a smile or other facial expressions.

Unusual behaviors. Some children with ASD repeat movements—such as flapping their arms or rocking back and forth. Or they may become focused on certain things—for example, watching moving objects (like a wheel spinning) or lining up toys. They may get upset at small changes or overreact to sounds or other sensations.

Communication. Many children with ASD learn words later than their peers or stop using them after their first birthday. They may not use gestures either, such as waving goodbye or pointing at things for you to see. Or they may echo exactly what others say.

Development. Children with ASD may develop certain skills at different rates. For example, a child might solve puzzles well but struggle socially.

Of course, no two children develop at the same pace. But if you're concerned that your child may have ASD, tell your doctor. An early diagnosis can make a positive difference in a child's life.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institute of Mental Health

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