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How to Detect the Very Earliest Signs of Autism During Infancy

Do you wonder if your baby is autistic? You may feel intuitively that something is "amiss" with your infant. Until now, most experts have based their diagnosis of this disorder on social interaction, language acquisition, and learning skills — all aspects of development that don't become apparent until a child is at least two years of age.

   However, an important breakthrough makes it possible to spot precursors of these disorders in infants once you know what to look for. The earlier autism is diagnosed and therapy is begun, the greater the chance your child can be helped.

   Here are seven general areas where atypical brain development makes itself known in autistic babies.

1.    Symmetry: For example, when your baby begins reaching for objects, she should be equally capable of reaching for them with either her right or left hand. Or when your baby props herself up from her stomach, her hands and arms should be positioned more or less the same on both sides of his body.

2.    Reflexes: Reflexes such as sucking, rooting, startle, and others should appear in all babies, but should also fade according to a fairly preset timetable. A trained professional can find out easily if your baby has nine key reflexes at the right time in his development.

3.    Ladder of Motor Development: Every baby must go through every stage of development — in order — for her brain to mature properly. These milestones include raising her head off the floor (4-6 weeks); placing her head in a vertical position (5-8 weeks); supporting her raised head with chest and arms (8-12 weeks); righting (rolling from her back to her stomach) (12 weeks); first crawling steps (6-10 months); sitting (6 months); standing (8-10 months); and walking (11-13 months).

4.    Righting: Typical righting — or rolling from back to stomach — involves a rotation of the head in the direction of the roll, and a corkscrew rotation of the torso that follows in the same direction.

5.    Crawling: Typical crawling involves a contra-lateral, or cross-crawl, pattern.

6.    Sitting: Sitting is a normal process that is important for brain development. A baby with typical brain development should be coordinated enough to sit, balanced, without the support of parents or pillows, at about 6 months of age.

7.    Walking: There are many aspects of the complicated set of movements that make up walking, and it builds on the skills she learned previously. A baby who has problems walking and does not get help may have problems acquiring future motor abilities.

OSNAT AND PHILIP TEITELBAUM are pioneering researchers in the field of infant movement analysis as it relates to autism and are coauthors of the new book, Does Your Baby Have Autism? (Square One, $17.95).


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