Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a range of developmental conditions that affects many children around the world. Children who suffer from autism often face problems with social skills, nonverbal communication, and in forming relationships with people. It is also a condition that typically has no cure, but can be managed to a great extent if detected early. However, clear signs of autism appear only by the time the child is 2-3 years old. Is there any way for parents to identify warning signs of autism earlier than that so they can help their baby at once? As per experts, a MIRROR can be a parent’s best friend here!
Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder that is caused when some of the cells and connections in the child’s brain don’t develop normally. This affects many areas of a child’s development, especially his social interactions and behavioural patterns. Some of the major signs of autism exhibited by children are repetitive behaviour patterns, tendency to avoid social circles, and having problems with speech.
Many people confuse autism with mental retardation, Down’s Syndrome, and even spastic paralysis. It is important to understand that autism is NOT either of these things. This is simply one of the myths about autism. See the video below to understand more about what autism actually is and how it manifests in children. That said, autism is a serious developmental disorder, and the sooner it is detected, the better the child’s quality of life can be.
With more and more researchers now working on this, there are certain medical tests for autism. These are basically MRI-scans that check if there is an overgrowth in brain volume. However, there is one simple way all parents can do an autism-detection test right at home. It only needs a mirror.
Detecting Autism in Toddlers - How to Look for Signs
Passing the Mirror Recognition Test
One of the earliest and most prominent indicators of autism is delayed self-recognition. Recognising oneself in the mirror is an important milestone in a child’s growth. Usually, toddlers achieve this milestone by 15 months of age, or sooner. As your little one grows, you might find him staring at the mirror for hours on end and cooing to his reflection. This is definitely adorable and an important milestone that every toddler needs to achieve. However, the way your child reacts to the mirror can also be a pointer to certain neuro-developmental disorders, including autism.
An unusual reaction upon seeing the mirror might be an early sign of autism and requires immediate help. Early recognition of these signs and quick intervention can actually go a long way in reducing the effects of this disorder.
Here is one of the best tests that has been used since time immemorial to look out for warning signs of autism in toddlers.
Place a mirror in front of the toddler and then gauge his reaction. Normally, the child will instantly recognise himself and would be happy to see his reflection in the mirror.
Now, put a sticker on his cheek or colour the tip of the child's nose.
If your child instantly removes the sticker or colour be assured that your child isn't autistic. However, if the child shows no sign of removing the sticker and simply stares at the mirror, this could mean that your toddler isn't recognising his face in the mirror. This is one of the indicators of autism.
Actions in Front of the Mirror
A number of researchers have established that autistic children behave differently with a mirror than children who do not have autism. Their actions are different. Let’s understand this.
When a toddler is placed in front of a mirror, you can often see him smile at his reflection, try to talk to it, touch it, and even show off things to it - much like the little baby in the video below. However, if your little one has autistic tendencies, chances are that he wouldn't connect with his reflection in a social manner.
As per a study published in BPS Research Digest, when an autistic child looks in the mirror, he would experiment with it, i.e., do things to see those things reflected back to them, but would not try to engage the person in the mirror socially. He would perform various actions and see if these are reflected in the mirror, but would not talk to the reflection, smile at it, or coo. This is another one of the warning signs of autism in toddlers.
Lack of Eye Contact with Reflection
It's a proven fact that children and people suffering from autism don't like to make eye contact and prefer to look at other things. Typically, babies make eye contact when they are about 6-8 weeks old. But if the child is autistic, he may struggle to, or not show interest in making eye contact even when he’s much older. This is one of the most common early symptoms of autism.
A number of studies have identified that autistic children find it unpleasant to make eye contact due to a social deficit – they do not like the ‘social’ act of gazing at someone in the eye. However, some recent studies also indicate that poor eye contact may also be because their brains processes visual information differently. As per a study by Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, an infant with autism may be unable to direct their eyes to exactly where they want.
So, a strong and early test of autism is to check out how your toddler acts when he sees his reflection in the mirror. Does he maintain eye contact with the reflection?
In case your child avoids looking at the mirror and instead focuses on other things that are reflected in the mirror, it would mean that your child treats his reflection as another person and thus, avoids eye contact.
Watch the video below to understand this and some more prominent signs of autism in children:
What to Do If Your Child Shows These Autism Warning Signs
The next time you sit down to play with your toddler make sure you bring in a mirror as well. Look for the above signs. Delayed self-recognition is one of the earliest sign of autism, so, if your child does exhibit any of these signs, it could indicate autism. However, there is no need to panic in case you spot any of these signs. Early detection and timely intervention can help control the signs of autism. Here are the next steps you need to take:
Discuss this with your paediatrician. He will be able to perform a more thorough diagnosis; it is possible that you could have misread the signs
If your paediatrician does confirm autism, he will also recommend steps to boost your little one’s all-round development. These will include play ideas for kids with autism, helping your child develop social skills, and other parenting tips
Look for help around you – from support groups, counsellors, family and friends. Parenting an autistic child can be a stressful experience. However, modern medical science has made a lot of progress. Even if the condition cannot be cured, it can be dealt with to a large extent to improve your child’s quality of life
If you know of any other ways in which a mirror can be used to detect signs of autism, do share your thoughts here.