Although, some parents of infants, later diagnosed with autism or other pervasive developmental disorders indicate that their child was progressing normally, then suddenly stopped and began to regress. Many other parents state, that in retrospect, they saw indicators from birth.
What are these early indicators that might be overlooked? Parents should let intuition be their guide and intervene early if they suspect something is not quite right. If an infant lacks eye contact, avoids cuddling, fixates on lights or spinning objects, acts as if deaf, is excessively passive, these could be possible “red flags”.
These signs may not be easily recognized by first time parents. In the past, pediatricians have often advocated a wait and see approach. All babies develop at their own rate. This is true. On the other hand; however, the plasticity of the infant’s brain lends itself to corrections that may be come more difficult if disengaging behaviors become more ingrained.
Suggestions for modulating and correcting possible problems:
Cut down on environmental stimuli. (E.g. Turn of the TV. Shut off ceiling fans. Turn off spinning mobiles. Avoid excessive use of flash cameras.)
Promote eye contact. Gaze into his eyes as he is being nursed. Animate expressions to see if that increases engagement. Become more subdued if the infant appears overwhelmed by facial interactions. Play peek a boo games. Sing to the child. If the infant is being bottle fed, position him as if he were nursing and look in his eyes. During feeding, do not engage in other activities such as watching TV or checking email. This is a time to bond.
Eye contact is necessary precursors to joint attention, a process where the child begins to point and then looks into the eyes of the caregiver to see if he/she is seeing what he is.
A disengaged infant should face the caregiver as much as possible. Invest in a stroller where the child faces the parent. Forward facing strollers increase stress and anxiety and it limits possibilities for interaction. The same is true of tummy backs that have the child facing outward, rather than toward the parent. When the child is facing toward you he can the soothing rhythm of your heartbeat.
If the infant resists cuddling and touch, lean over him as he lies on his back and look into his eyes. Massage him to increase tolerance. Lay next to the infant engaging him in eye contact, gently massage arms, legs, hands and feet. Different textures can be used in addition to hands. Use these techniques to slowly desensitize the child.
Rocking, spinning, and head banging can be signs of agitation. If a baby looks like he is having difficulty establishing an internal rhythm, parents should keep him very close so he can feel their heartbeat/rhythm. Rock him in a traditional rocking chair. Provide a manual rocking horse, or swing. Mechanical swings and devices often provide a faster rhythm than normal, possibly making the problem worse.
If the child does not respond to his name by age one, continues to resist eye contact or cuddling, does not demonstrate at least the beginnings of joint attention- pointing and sharing, does not babble and/or continues to act is if deaf, parents need to ask his pediatrician for a referral for an evaluation by a developmental disorder specialist.
Whether your child has a problem or not, these common sense interventions can’t hurt. Parents may be surprised how their once aloof infant looks into their eyes and gives them a big hug.