Autism in Infants – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment


Autism affects a child’s development and is often detected by the time the child reaches the age of three. It does not discriminate; children all over the world, regardless of their race, age and overall health, are susceptible to it. Though children have seen improvements and benefited from therapy, it is still considered permanent as it is something that they carry into their adulthood.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) causes difficulties in interacting socially; facing challenges while communicating and includes having the tendency to engage in repetitive behaviour. The intensity of the symptoms may vary widely in these three areas, but they are the main three factors that define autism. For some, these prove mild challenges, but for others, they are very severe and can cause a lot of difficulties for the child as being unable to communicate well and repeating behaviour interferes with daily life.

How Common Is It among Babies?

On an average, autism is observed in 1/68 children and has also shown itself to be more common in boys than girls. It has been seen that Autism is five times more common in boys than in girls. Studies have shown that 1 in 42 boys have autism while in girls only 1 in 189 has been found to have the condition.

What Causes Autism in Infants?

There could be a number of things that cause autism in infants. Each individual will have a different combination of these and will also have them in different intensities. Here are three main reasons for what may cause autism in infants:

1. Genetic Anomalies

A single mutation on even a single one of a number of genes on the various chromosomes can result in autism. Different genetic mutations, as well as specific genetic mutations, can result in autism.

2. Environmental Influences

Sometimes people with genetic mutations that are connected with autism do not show any signs of it as it appears to be dormant. Exposure to certain environmental factors such as infections or chemicals may eventually result in autism becoming more active. Since this reaction can be quite unpredictable, some people with genetic mutations do not show any visible signs of autism even after being exposed to these environmental factors.

3. Sporadic Reasons

If an infant suffers from neurological disorders, autoimmune diseases, a faulty metabolism or an overgrowth of brain tissues, there is a possibility that the child will spontaneously develop the condition. Autism can also be present in children who suffer from Down’s Syndrome and fragile X syndrome.

Prenatal Factors that Cause Autism in Babies

Though multiple factors influence a child’s development that results in autism, there is always a common link with the disorder and pregnancy. Here are a few things that occur during the prenatal period that may result in autism in your child:

  • Maternal diet during pregnancy
  • Too much weight gain
  • First-trimester brain damage
  • Prolonged exposure to environmental pollution
  • Use of prescription medication during pregnancy
  • Advanced maternal age
  • Maternal response to viral and bacterial illnesses
  • Maternal thyroid deficiencies
  • High levels of testosterone in amniotic fluid
  • Foetal exposure to radiation (including ultrasounds) during periods of brain development
  • Maternal deficiency in Vitamin D

Signs of Autism in Babies

Signs of autism can begin to show as early as a child’s infancy and they begin to progress as the baby ages. Here are some of the early signs of autism in infants that you should look out for from birth to one year of age:

  • Your baby will not try to babble or coo
  • Does not make any attempt to vocally respond to or mimic the sounds that you make when talking to your child.
  • Does not begin to experiment with gestures and pointing as a means of communication
  • Is not interested in learning to hold new objects by trying to grab them
  • Does not like it when anyone looks straight into his eyes and will even go so far as to avoid eye contact
  • Sways a lot and stretches out the hands in an awkward manner
  • Your baby will not respond to his name, no matter how many time you call out to him
  • Displays unusual ways of playing with toys; for example, he will move his toy car forwards and backwards but does nothing beyond this.
  • Will not respond well to new foods, usually making a fuss when he is given anything new
  • Your baby will not like it when things have been changed, and if he discovers, for example, that you have moved his toys to another place, it is very likely that your child will throw a tantrum because of it. Children with autism will usually remain upset for a long time afterwards.
  • Their reactions to different things and situations will be extreme and never moderate. Either your child will become too excited about something or will show total and complete disinterest.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

There are some screening procedures that are used to help in diagnosing autism in babies. Here is how to spot autism in babies:

1. Family History

If autism already exists in your family, your baby will have a higher chance of developing the condition. If you already have a child who has been diagnosed with autism, then your child will have an 18% chance of also being diagnosed; however, in the case of identical twins, if one is diagnosed, there is a 95% chance that the other will be diagnosed as well.

2. Behavioural Traits

The doctor will look for the signs in your baby’s behaviour that indicate he may have autism. How early can you detect autism in a baby? According to a study, it was found that children who did not have autism and children who were later diagnosed with it had similar behaviour during the first year of their lives. It was only by the age of one year that the children began to show differences in behaviour.

3. Autism Questionnaire

There is a questionnaire called “Modern Checklist for Autism in Toddlers” (M-CHAT) that contains 23 questions that cover all the different aspects of autism. These include behavioural problems, language delay, and an overall shift in behaviour.

How is Autism Treated in Babies?

Though researchers are trying to find a solution as to how to tackle the condition at its early stages once and for all, they have not made much progress, and there is no cure for autism. There are ways in which parents of toddlers and infants with autism can manage the problem in a more understanding and comfortable way.

How to Manage Autism in Babies?

If all the caregivers involved, including parents and doctors, play their parts well, managing a baby with autism can become less of a challenge. Here are a few ways in which autism can be managed:

  1. Knowledge Is Power

It is very important for parents to educate themselves on what autism is. This will help you later as you are able to meet any challenges your child may throw at you in the correct way.

2. Therapy

Depending upon your child’s age and the severity of your child’s condition, your doctor may suggest a therapy that will be suitable for your child. The Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is highly recommended as this behavioural therapy involves enforcing desirable social and behavioural traits in an autistic child.


3. Communication Interventions

As infants and toddlers have difficulty in learning at the same pace, a normal education might not be effective for them. Having a toddler undergo therapy for communication may help him during later life.

4. Safety First

Children with autism do not seem to have much regard for safety and often do things to put themselves at risk. Making sure that your home is childproofed well can help you during your child’s developmental years.

Therapy is really the best way to help children with autism; however, in some cases that are severe, your doctor may have to prescribe medication that will subdue certain symptoms (OCD and depression) in your child.

Can you Prevent Autism?

Researchers are in the process of understanding autism, but since they are unable to pinpoint the exact causes, all one can do is follow the basic rules of pregnancy with relation to diet, exercise and general lifestyle. There have not yet been a proven method of preventing autism.

Will Autistic Babies Live a Normal Life?

If there is timely intervention and proper therapeutic measures are taken to help children learn to cope with the condition from a young age, they are very much capable of growing up to live relatively normal lives. According to the US Centre for Disease Control, about 44% of people diagnosed with autism have an average, or sometimes even above average intellect. Toddlers with autism have been observed to have a better memory of numbers and music.


Does Vaccination Make a Baby Susceptible to Autism?

It is very important to protect your child from diseases at a young age, and this is why vaccinations are important. However, it should be noted that these vaccinations do not cause autism in newborn, nor do they protect them from developing it later on in life. The factors involved in developing the condition are different.

All children develop at different paces, so don’t worry if your child develops at a different pace than others. Your child may be a little late to walk or talk, but this is found to be common among a lot of children who grow up without developing autism as well. If your child is diagnosed with autism, remember, it is not a disease, but a disability that can be overcome with love, support and encouragement from you and the other caregivers involved.