In the past, parents had to wait until their children were talking before doctors would make an official diagnosis of autism. In the meantime, months and years of therapy were lost. A decade of study by two researchers at the University of Florida indicates that watching your child’s movement may be an early-warning system that might warrant intervention sooner rather than later.
Linda Shrieves, a writer for the Orlando Sentinel, posted an article that explained the two researchers’ methods and what they discovered. Osnat and Phillip Teitelbaum, who authored the book “Does Your Baby Have Autism?” spent thousands of hours reviewing home videos shot by parents of children eventually diagnosed as autistic. They were watching for patterns in crawling and walking, which they compared to the same development in children without autism. Here are three of several patterns that emerged among the children who were eventually diagnosed as autistic:
- “Asymmetrical crawling,” as the Teitelbaums call it, means the baby “crawls with one leg in the crawling position and the other leg in the walking position.” In short, two sides of the body are doing different things.
- Many autistic babies showed a preference for one side of their bodies. Normal infants may reach for a toy with both hands or alternate hands. Autistic babies seem to prefer and use only one hand. This is significant because children don’t become right- or left-handed until they’re four or five years old.
- Some autistic children never crawl. They simply start walking. While this might impress and excite the parents, the Teitelbaums say it’s not a good sign, because it indicates there’s something wrong with their neurological development.
It’s important to keep in mind that not every child who crawls late or walks late is autistic. There’s a wide range of normal when it comes to child development. The Teitelbaum’s goal is to make parents aware of the warning signs “to help get more children in therapy earlier,” when researchers believe it benefits them most.
While all children love toys, there are actually some baby gifts that are helpful to autistic children. Any toy for an autistic child that can be stacked helps them improve their motor skills, like this set of colorful, wooden spelling blocks (left.) Stories with repetition and/or rhyme help in the development of speech skills. Plush Mother Goose (right) contains three beloved nursery-rhyme characters and soft books that contain the rhymes. You can check online for lists of helpful toys for autistic children.