Autism & Early Signs

July 21, 2023

In this post, we will review recent information on autism, including what it is, potential causes and a review of some signs that might indicate autism in young children.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism is a complex difference in brain development, and are primarily characterized by differences in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.”

This diagram provides an easy visual of the core symptoms of autism, as well as associated related disorders. Expanded definitions of the social challenges, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviours can be found here.

What causes autism?

While there is not one specific answer, we do know that there are a variety of factors that can contribute to development of autism. These include:

  • Genetic factors (gene changes or mutations)
  • Environmental factors such as (parental age, illness in pregnancy, prematurity, low birth weight, etc).

However, it is important to note that the environmental factors alone do not cause autism, but in combination with generic risk factors, the risk of having a child with autism increases.

In contract, is also critical to point out what does not cause autism.

 Autism is not caused by:

More research is needed to determine the causes and risks of autism. To view current research in the field, you can check out Autism Speaks.  

What you can do if you have concerns:

If you have concerns that a child/individual you know, might be at risk for autism, there are some online screening tools you can take. The M-CHAT-R is available to take online through the website, as well as through Autism Speaks. This is a checklist that is designed to screen children between the ages of 16-30 months for signs of autism. The M-CHAT-R is also available as an app to download on your phone. Additionally, Autism Canada provides links to 4 types of screening tools for individuals of varying ages, which include children under 3, children 3-11 years, teenagers between 12-15 and adults (age 16+). Those tests can be found here. If the scores indicate that your child may be at risk, contact your doctor. You may also want to refer your child to an Early Intervention/Therapy program. These programs are available locally and provide services for speech-language pathology, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. They are free services available for children from birth until they enter kindergarten. You can search for service providers and early intervention programs through Therapy BC .

Our director of programming, Maria Sample, presented an overview of Autism Spectrum Disorder early signs for the Autism Support Network in British Columbia in 2022. This presentation provides a more detailed overview of characteristics of autism that we see in young children specifically. This can be helpful for anyone with concerns about their toddler’s social – communication development.

About the video:

We know that early intervention is associated with increases in adaptive skill development, communication, and overall IQ for children on the spectrum, but it can often be difficult to get started with services due to waitlists for diagnoses or shortages of service providers.
In this video, we will outline indicators of social-communication vulnerabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and whether or not families should be concerned about their child’s development.

Presenter: Maria Sample, MA, BCBA
UP Early Intervention Clinic, Inc.
Maria (she/her) is a passionate leader with a deep love for the science of behaviour analysis and is an experienced service provider in private practice, home-based and clinic-based settings. Maria specializes in naturalistic, developmental behavioural interventions and parent coaching and support, applies organizational behaviour management, acceptance and commitment training, and systems analysis concepts to a dynamic and complex clinic environment. She has published and presented research and served as a subject matter expert for the BACB.