What is Autism?

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder developed during early childhood. It can be identified by a triad of difficulties in communication, social interaction, and rigid behavior, interests and activities. Autism can affect kids even if they are really smart, and even if they have an outgoing personality. Autistic children may also have other special needs such as ADHD and dyslexia that must also be addressed.

Currently, the Autism Spectrum Disorder category includes:
• Autistic Disorder (Autism)
• Asperger’s Syndrome
• Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS / tAtypical Autism)

Depending on the severity of their symptoms, a child with autism may be described as ‘high’ or ‘low’ functioning. The low functioning children may throw temper tantrums or behave in a socially inappropriate manner. High functioning children can manage their own behavior, however, they may find themselves unable to make friends or being the target of school bullies. As adults, they may have difficulties holding on to their jobs due to their weak social skills.

Autism is not caused by a shy personality, poor parenting or childhood trauma. It is a handicap that almost researchers agree has a genetic cause. Children with autism encounter various difficulties in their daily life because they could not do the “simple” things that we take for granted, and not because they are shy or attention seeking.One simple test to see if the child has autism is to see if he or she spontaneously points at objects to share experiences, for instance, showing a beautiful butterfly to parents. Children with autism are very unlikely to do so, and they will only point at objects to make requests (e.g. asking for food). Children who do share their experiences are unlikely to have autism.


Many parents have the misconception that if their child does not speak at an appropriate age, a speech therapist and lots of speech therapy will be able to solve the problem. However, speech delays and difficulties may just be a syndrome of deeper problems.

If the child exhibits the early signs of autism [see below], he or she is likely to have autism. Children with autism will need more help than what a speech therapist or language therapy can provide, because they not only have difficulty with speech and language, but also with socializing, decision making and controlling their own behavior.

It is important to seek help for the autistic child as soon as possible, as early intervention can help solve many issues before they worsen. Many children are also able to recover from autism. If not, they may still be able to enter a mainstream school.

We offer an initial assessment if you wish to find out if your child needs help. Our team of qualified therapists also offer many services that can help prepare autistic children for mainstream schooling, and offer them the best chances at recovery using our evidence-based advanced ABA-VB therapy.

How can I tell if my child has autism? What are the symptoms?

Autism is a developmental disorder. In order to detect symptoms as early as possible, parents can pay close attention to how well their child is meeting developmental milestones. If the child misses a few milestones by a few weeks, it is not an issue. However, if he consistently misses milestones, then parents are advised to seek professional advice.

Newborn: The baby will spend most of his time sleep and feeding. He will only be able to see things very near to him – around 25cm / 10 inches. Try sticking out your tongue from that optimal distance and see if the baby copies you.

1 Month: The baby starts making cooing and gurgling sounds when he sees you.

2 Months: The baby starts smiling and spends a lot of time gazing at faces. Parents could help encourage the baby to make eye contact with them as much as possible. They can look at the baby whenever they are talking to him/her.

3 Months: The baby starts lifting his head high without wobbling when held upright. He will also be able to turn his head from side to side. The baby also starts babbling. Parents can start encouraging babies to develop language skills by talking, singing and making sounds to him throughout the day.

4 Months: When placed on the floor on his tummy, the baby can turn over onto his back. The baby starts paying close attention to sounds and faces. He starts responding with smiles and laughter to funny expressions and faces.

5 Months: The baby starts recognizing the caregivers and showing affection with hugs and kisses. He can hold up his arms when he wants to be picked up. He also starts responding to his name. He also learns to ignore familiar sounds and respond strongly to new sounds.

6 Months: The baby starts being able to roll over from back to the front when placed on the floor. The baby starts exploring a wide variety of different sounds.

7 Months: The baby gets better at fine motor skills such as grasping and manipulating objects with his fingers, and using his lips and tongue to feel objects. He can transfer an object from one hand to the other easily. He learns to drink from a two-handled cup by herself and clap his hands with some external help. He finds peek-a-boo games fascinating as he understands that objects still exist even if he cannot see, feel or hear them.

8 Months: The baby starts crawling and can pull himself to a standing position while holding on to furniture. He also learns to use his thumb and first two fingers to pick up objects, which he can put to good use for feeding himself. He can express himself such as by pointing to objects and waving to people when they are leaving. He responds to the moods of the people around him, for instance, crying when other babies are crying too.

9 Months: The baby’s babbling sounds more like real words. He starts exhibiting separation anxiety by clinging to caretakers and hiding from unfamiliar people. He also starts to play passing games such as by giving toys and taking them back. He can also walk upright by holding on to furniture.

10 Months: The baby will be able to crawl well on his hands and knees. He starts repeating sounds, making gestures to get attention and asserting his own preferences. By now, his gaze should be consistent and predictable. He now demonstrates that he shares the same focus and attention as another person – he smiles at an interesting object and then looks at a social partner while maintaining that smile, as if anticipating that the partner will be gazing at him. [Joint attention is a major developmental milestone. Research has shown that babies who do not achieve this are at risk of developing autism.]

11 Months: The baby now understands some simple language. He can follow simple instructions but can also choose to ignore them. He can hold out his limbs to facilitate being dressed. He can walk while gripping another person’s hand.

12 Months: The baby begins to have more two-way communications with her new language and social skills. He has perfected his fine motor skills and can easily grab or toss objects.


In summary, infants and toddlers who may have autism will usually not:

  1. Follow objects visually
  2. Follow gestures of other people who are pointing at things
  3. Make eye contact (e.g. look at the people feeding them)
  4. Respond to familiar voices and own name
  5. Imitate facial expressions, such as smiling back when seeing other people smiling at them
  6. Use gestures such as waving at other people and pointing at objects of interest
  7. Make noises to get other people’s attention
  8. Respond to cuddling or play invitations
  9. Initiate hugs or reach out to be picked up
  10. Make requests such as asking for help

A useful point to remember is that children with autism are especially weak with joint attention. This means that they are not able to spontaneously notice what other people around them are noticing, and share the same focus as these people.

For instance, a typical child may initiate communication by looking at his mother. As his mother’s gaze meets his, he then points at a beautiful butterfly. His mother then looks at the butterfly. Then she makes eye contact with him again. Both of them then smile at each other to acknowledge their understanding.

In contrast, children with autism point at objects to make requests (e.g. asking for food). These children do not automatically make eye contact or acknowledge the existence of other people, and give the impression that they are living in a world of their own.

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    Autism Recovery Network Singapore (in Indonesia)