A parent can sometimes mistake a child’s mannerism or preoccupation as definitely autism. An area of ​​deficiency can be a sign or indication of autism, but it could also indicate another type of condition or possible delay. Parents may need to work with professionals to see the big picture of the child and how the sign or gesture relates to the child’s ability to communicate and socially interact with others. Some children are a bit “out of character” or unusual in their mannerisms, but this could be a sign of many different things. I think of a child who is very gifted and who thinks outside the box. This child may over-examine a toy to the point of being excessive, but a good professional would detect that this child has higher cognitive abilities or a great curiosity about an object, rather than having autism.

Another example could be a child who is not speaking at the age of three and would have a delay in the area of ​​communication. A child with autism who does not speak also has a communication delay or deficit. Professionals working with the child will then begin to look at the child’s ‘intention’ or willingness to communicate with others. The speech therapist can observe if the child shows a desire to communicate with others, but only has a limited vocabulary to express himself. On the other hand, a child with autism may be using some words, but in a more repetitive way, instead of communicating needs or wants.

The professional is looking to see if the language is directed at others or if the child is unresponsive or avoids social interaction. If the child avoids social interaction by not talking, the professional will look to see if the avoidance is deliberate, if the child understands the request, or if she interacts with others in some way. However, if the child’s communication is presented as insensitive, withdrawn and without ‘intent’ to reach out to others, then there would be more reason to explore the area of ​​autism. Professionals tend to look at the whole picture of the child and often do not focus a full evaluation on an unusual, atypical, or different mannerism.

Parents and professionals would not want to confuse a single unusual child’s mannerism with a child who has autism with a large number of characteristics or deficits in the areas of socialization or communication.

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