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Early Symptoms of Childhood Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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Do you know the early symptoms of childhood autism spectrum disorder?

Do you know the early symptoms of childhood autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? If not, you’re not alone. Many people are unaware of the signs and symptoms of ASD because it is a relatively new diagnosis. However, it is important to be aware of the early symptoms of ASD so that you can get your child the help they need as soon as possible. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the early symptoms of ASD and what you can do if you think your child may have ASD.

Early Diagnosis and Intervention

If you’ve been paying attention to the autism conversation lately, you might have noticed that there’s a lot of talk about early diagnosis and intervention. That’s because more and more experts are realizing just how important it is to catch autism spectrum disorder (ASD) early. In fact, most experts now believe that the earlier ASD is identified, the better the chances are for successful treatment and intervention.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by severe and complex impairments of social interaction and communication skills. It presents stereotypical behavior, interests, and activities that impede their daily occupation. In addition, unusual combinations of sensory, communication, and behavioral characteristics seen with Autism children create a significant negative effect on the child’s capability to participate in home, school, and community activities. 

ASD characteristics can be categorized into four subsections of disturbances:

  • (1) Disturbance in Social Interactions, 
  • (2) Disturbance in communication, 
  • (3) Disturbance in Behaviors,
  • (4) Disturbance of sensory and perceptual processing and associated impairments.

Sensory problems may come in different forms such as Sensory Modulation, Sensory Registration, and Sensory Seeking. They also come in forms of over responsiveness, Hypersensitivity, and Sensory Defensiveness.

(1) Sensory Modulation Problem wherein the child can respond very slowly or respond extremely to sensory stimuli. It may indicate that an overly defensive child may be overloaded with the stimuli that eventually make them under-responsive.

(2) Sensory Registration indicates an inability to attend to or register relevant environmental stimuli. Children with sensory registration may be unaware to touch, pain, movement, taste, smell, sight, or sound.

Safety Measures

autism spectrum disorder

Safety measures should be imposed on handling children with sensory registration problems.

(3) Sensory Seeking may manifest as hyperactivity, excitability, and lack of consideration to personal safety. It is also called hyperresponsivity that indicates the underlying manner of the sensory process instead of observable motor behavior. This behavior can generate socially inappropriate or disruptive behavior. 

(4) Over responsiveness / Hypersensitivity / Sensory Defensiveness characterizes being overwhelmed with normal stimuli input and responding defensively accompanied by maladaptive behavior.

The interpretation of different kinds of sensations is located in the central nervous system of our brain. It is divided into five systems:

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Tactile
  4. Gustatory (Taste)
  5. and Olfactory (Smell).

Visual System

autism spectrum disorder

Vision is the most influential sense in humans because it aids the individual to monitor what is happening in the surrounding environment. In case this system is damaged, it may cause difficulties in daily living such as eating, dressing, reading, writing, locating objects, driving, and many more. The interpretation of the visual stimulus involves mental processing. It consists of;

  • (1) Visual Attention, which selects the visual input and provides visual information for visual processing; 
  • (2) Visual Memory, which integrates visual information with previous experiences, specifically the Long-Term Memory;
  • (3) Visual Discrimination that detects a feature of stimuli for recognition, matching, and categorization. 

Among the sensory domains that are affected in children with Autism, Visual Perceptual was mostly reported because of the enhanced or decreased visual detection and search as one of the characteristics of children with Autism. A visually busy and unfamiliar environment may cause unusual anxiety in a visually defensive child.

Role of Visual Craft

autism spectrum disorder

Visual art plays an important role in Autism Spectrum Disorder intervention. It can become a reference for visual information, verbal communication, behavior, and sensory sensitivity. That will have a positive relationship with the surrounding people. Using alert visual stimulation increases the child’s work behaviors, such as Attention, Concentration, Impulse Control, and Frustration Tolerance. 

Verbal and Non-verbal Gestures

Which will help them communicate through verbal and non-verbal gestures. Creating an art image allows that child with a sense of mastery, autonomy, visual pleasure, and a link to the world at large. It increases the visual strength of the child to convey goals for intervention while giving a socially appropriate outlet for self-stimulatory behavior and sensory needs. Visual art is a bridge for Autism Spectrum children to express what they want to say through markers, clay, and drawing that allows them to process open-ended, flexible, and sensory stimuli. 

According to the Autism Parenting Magazine

According to the Autism Parenting Magazine, a painting activity with the use of different colors helps to engage with other people with the use of symbols or icons from their artwork. In addition, this also represents what they are feeling by drawing or making collages. Pen and paper art activities increase endurance, impulse control, and frustration tolerance throughout the activity.

A pilot study about Portrait Drawing conducted in 2008 by Nicole Martin was found effective for connecting and engaging with other participants with Autism Spectrum Disorder where they displayed more interest in withdrawing into detail. Social participation and communication were also effective, as they were able to converse with the facilitator and the participants.

Auditory System

autism spectrum disorder

The auditory system is responsible for our hearing ability that is stimulated with sound waves from the environment. Auditory stimuli that may alert the child are loud, variable, unexpected changes in pitch or tone, while the sounds that may calm the child are rhythmic, soft, consistent, quiet, or soft sounds. ASD children are either over or less sensitive to sounds that they hear in the environment. A study conducted for children with ASD proves that Music Therapy and Music Listening is very crucial to improve the hearing ability.

Role of Auditory Activities

autism spectrum disorder

The study stated that music therapy increases the activation of areas in the brain that decodes potentially higher levels of physiological arousal. Music activity can also cue association with tasks in therapy sessions. You can choose a song from the introduction, during activity, and termination of activity. This can help the child remember the cues to transition with minimal help to independence. 

Auditory Sensitivity

If the child has auditory sensitivity, they can also benefit from arts and craft activity that uses sound stimulation by using a headphone that improves the child’s listening, learning, movement, organization, listening, and physical coordination. We must take into consideration music activities that are interesting, simple, and artistic during treatment intervention to target the goals needed for the child to take part as normally as possible in their daily lives. 

Music Therapy

Here is a quick music therapy idea and its benefits. It is important to manage the sound level of the music and instruments to avoid inducing unpleasant sensations in the children. The therapy session includes 3 parts:

  • (1) 5-minute instrumental music listening;
  • (2) an instrumental and vocal improvisation for 20 minutes where the children have free access to the instruments and are free to engage with other children; and
  • (3) closing ritual that comprises a 5-minute vocal listening. Besides that, they proved that children who engaged in a certain quality of sound level and structured music therapy showed significant improvement in group interaction, increased energy level, and promoted gross motor behavior. 

Affects the Perception of the Emotion

It decreases stereotypical behavior in overly sensitive children. They also proved that a choice of music affects the perception of the emotion of children with autism. For normal people, we spend a lot of hours listening to music, which most of the time helps us to relax. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder displayed intact emotional recognition of music, in response to happy music instead of sad music. 

Tactile System

autism spectrum disorder

The tactile system handles our ability to feel sensations from external stimuli. Such as touch, pressure, vibration, heat, cold, and movement of hair. This is processed in the tactile stimuli in the parietal lobe. We see the sensory pattern in Autism Spectrum Disorder children in three patterns;

  • (1) Hyper-responsiveness;
  • (2) Hypo-responsiveness;
  • (3) Sensory Seeking. 

Hyper-Responsiveness

A child may exhibit hyper-responsiveness which is frequently seen in environmental stimuli such as vacuum cleaners or wool clothing. That indicates a low threshold for registering and/or accredit negative affective significance to sensory stimulation.  A child may also exhibit hypo-responsiveness to environmental stimuli as a tap on the shoulder or the sound of one’s name being called. There is a failure to register sensory stimuli, and this may indicate a high pain tolerance or inability to respond to environmental stimuli. 

Sensory Seeking is described as behaviors that crave or an unusually strong attraction towards a certain type of sensory input. Such as peering at lights or spending disproportionate amounts of time on a swing.

Role of Touch Sensory Activities

autism spectrum disorder

The importance of Tactile intervention for Autism Spectrum children is to tolerate unpleasant stimuli while decreasing stereotypical behavior and turn it into a more creative activity. In addition, art activities are generally enjoyable throughout the art process.

Tactile System in Autism Spectrum Children

The best way to develop the tactile system in Autism Spectrum children is to engage them in a variety of activities. Where you can allow them to get messy because they can feel the texture, pressure, and cold/hot sensation. The nervous system is being desensitized to different environmental stimuli whenever they will encounter them in their daily living.

Tactile Art Therapy

In addition, tactile art therapy involving the tactile system decreases anxiety and fear. An example of tactile art activity is using ‘slime”, kinetic sand, and clay. The different textures and materials train the nervous system that contributes to their behavior towards the surrounding people.

The tactile therapy will improve self-care activities such as dressing, bathing, grooming, and eating. Activities such as finger painting, sand and water play, and craft would improve during social and academic situations. A child with autism can benefit from the tactile issues because it will help them cope up with handling certain textures in the palm of their hands. It can also decrease stereotypes and repetitive behaviors.

Tactile Defensiveness or Oversensitivity

The most recorded in literature is the Tactile Defensiveness or Oversensitivity is the tendency to overreact to ordinary touch sensations. It may indicate a flight response of the body, such as avoidance in touch. Children with Autism can experience a calming such as light touch, small area, quick, gentle, tickling, soft textures, and extreme temperature. Alerting tactile stimuli such as deep pressure, large area sustained, braiding, milking massage, firm hold, hugging, firm stroking in direction of hair growth and moderate temperatures.

Tactile Issues

The common problem that may arise with the tactile issues is the refusal to wear a certain type of clothing that they may find aversive to their system. Thus, this tactile issue may affect the activity of daily living such as dressing. Another issue regarding the tactile system is over responsiveness to tactile stimuli. It may result in an inability to distinguish the texture and shape of an object being held with tactile cue only.

Therefore, the tactile system is a critical modality for learning during infancy and early childhood because it is particularly important in manipulation skills in performing tasks such as connecting pieces of constructional toys, fastening buttons or snaps, braiding hair, or playing marble.

Gustatory or Sense of Taste

autism spectrum disorder

Children with Autism may display refusal to certain textures and the consistency of food being presented to them. Food refusal relates to behavior, and it manifests when a child gags with textured food or refuses cup drinking. It is important to present arts and craft activities such as presentation of the parts of the mouth incorporated into gross motor activity. To best regulate the energy of the child with too many stimuli in their system. 

Food Refusal

Children who presented food refusal are unable to get the nutrients they need for their age and growth. Gustatory stimuli may be alerting such as salty, spicy, or sour food. Crunchy textures, or calming such as sweet or bland food, chewy textures, and sucking through a straw as well. Food refusal or negative behavior can be characterized when the child is crying, pushing the spoon or cup away. Also if the child is spitting the food out during the activity. 

Tactile Defensiveness

Gustatory System and Tactile System are interchangeably related. Children that experience Tactile defensiveness in the oral system are related to the taste system. Treatment programs that provide gustatory sensory integration during mealtime are administered. Strong flavors and cold temperatures can help the child take the right bite sizes of food.

Role of Taste Sensory Activities

autism spectrum disorder

A child with autism is picky and would refuse to take the food during mealtime. Repeated mealtime management of behavior will eventually create a negative impact on family routines a should be addressed first before proceeding with the rest of the family member’s mealtime. The caregiver or the parent can try to create new positive interactions and child interaction during feeding activities and mealtime. Intervention strategies for picky eater children include positive reinforcement during play or activity exploration.

The Sense of Taste

Where the child tastes or swallows non-preferred food.  Then adapting the activity to gradually create attainable steps. The sense of taste helps in improving sensitivity in a different flavor of food that enters the mouth and touches the tongue. Arts and craft activities may include identification and location of the areas of the tongue. Such as sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

With the use of pictures, matching, and sorting activity. In addition, we can also use edible art materials to explore the flavor in their mouth. It is also important during the art activity to sustain child participation and intervention success. The caregiver should provide positive reinforcements and decrease refusal behavior. 

Take It Slow

It is important to take note during gustatory activity that we should take it slow. We should not cause trauma to the child with sensory issues to prevent long-term food refusal. I believe that arts and crafts can be an initial step in addressing the gustatory problems. Because we can create a safe space for the child to love the different flavors of food.

 We also can make the activity colorful to the eyes of the child. We can make it a fun and stress-free activity by comprising between our goals as a caregiver or parent versus what the child wants. We can give them verbal praises and rewards to increase their self-esteem if they are being presented with noxious stimuli. And once we already addressed this issue, the child can have a healthy body wherein he/she can digest nutrients through eating and swallowing independently.

Olfactory or Sense of Smell

autism spectrum disorder

The olfactory system is stimulated by airborne chemicals and is correlated with memory and emotion. We have different preferences of smell, there are the ones that we like such as our favorite perfume, the smell of our favorite food, and even the smell of freshly laundered clothes. In addition to the olfactory stimulus that we like, that makes us happy smelling the things that we like. While the olfactory stimuli that we do not like can also reflect with our emotions. 

Also our memories, such as a noxiousness of stimuli that make us remember a moment that puts us in danger such as gas leaks, the smell of something burning, or spoiled food. Perception to smell is important as the other sensory subsystem and it can also present an overly responsive, under-responsive, or sensitive reaction to the stimuli.

Role of Smell Sensory Activities

autism spectrum disorder

Children with autism that are overly sensitive to smell might result in an unbearable social situation. Such as going to a restaurant where they cannot tolerate certain food only. In addition, the children that are less reactive to odors will get disinterested in foods that may result in eating problems. In a meta-analysis conducted by Crow A.N.D. et al., olfactory stimuli relate to food-related behaviors, avoidance behaviors, and selectivity (2020).

Giving More Attention to Olfactory Issues

Giving more attention to olfactory issues can improve the social and/or emotional functioning of an individual with Autism because of olfactory modulation. It decreases social isolation, and they can go to different settings such as restaurants, bowling alleys, and movie theaters. It can eliminate family or caregiver burden because they do not need to provide a certain food that they only like. We should also take into consideration that sensory stimuli can be alerting such as strong, noxious, unfamiliar odors, and calming.

Reflect the Response of the Child

Such as familiar odors because this will reflect the response of the child during an art activity. Art therapy that involves the olfactory system can be incorporated into scented art materials such as markers, stickers, papers, play dough, and lotions. Before the activity, we must always check with the parent or guardian for any allergies to make sure the child is safe and avoid inflicting injury during an intervention. Also, this helps in object exploration and recognition, as the sensory system is associated with memory.

autism spectrum disorder

The Five Sensory Systems Art Therapy

The five sensory systems art therapy is beneficial to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The main reason is because it promotes quality of life and well-being. With the articles and evidenced-based studies presented. Stereotypes and repetitive behaviors are decreased because it disrupts the flow of engagement to activities of daily living. Such as bathing, dressing, eating/swallowing, and feeding.

Art Therapy Is Important in a School Setting

In addition to occupational engagement, art therapy is important in a school setting because it improves participation in academic tasks, such as writing and class participation. Play participation can improve because the child can manipulate and recognize objects being held with little to no sensitivity. It is important to take into consideration the environmental setting and stimuli where the child can feel safe.

With the appropriate level of environmental stimulation can increase participation in the activity. Which can later lead to social situations towards family members, relatives, and peers.

Children With Autism Can Express Themselves Through Art

Children with autism can express themselves through art, such as what they feel and what they want to say. It is important to consider the things that the child likes and dislikes. In that way, we can avoid maladaptive behaviors during the activity. Choosing the appropriate art activity and materials is important because it builds between you and the child. Make the child feel safe and secure during the art session so that he/she can trust you and reach both of your goals at ease.​

Conclusion on Early Symptoms of Childhood Autism Spectrum Disorder

Early Symptoms of Childhood Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms vary from child to child. If you think your child may have ASD, it is important to get them evaluated by a professional as soon as possible. There are many resources available for parents of children with ASD, and early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference in the quality of life for these kids. Have you ever had a suspicion that your child might have autism spectrum disorder? Please share your story in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!

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