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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex condition associated with various neurobiological disorders that have a lifelong impact on the development of a person’s skills and abilities. This includes difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication and behaviour as well as social interaction including leisure or play activities. Autism affects a person’s ability to communicate with others, socialize and relate to the outside world. This developmental disability typically appears during the first three years of life and is a result of a neurological disorder, which affects brain function. Many individuals with autism also have an anxiety or mood disorder. Another common characteristic is an unusual attachment to objects or routines. There is still a lot that is not known about autism and opinions vary on the best way to treat it, but everyone agrees that early intervention is important.

Most parents are in the best position to spot the earliest warning signs. These involve the absence of normal behaviours rather than the presence of abnormal ones. Some of the possible signs in infants and toddlers include:

  • Not making eye contact (i.e., when being fed)
  • Not smiling back when smiled at, pointing, waving goodbye or other common gestures used to communicate
  • Not responding to their name or a familiar voice
  • Not following objects visually
  • Not making noise to get attention
  • Not cuddling or wanting to be cuddled
  • Not mimicking your actions or expressions
  • Not reaching out to be held or picked up
  • Not asking for help or making other basic requests
  • Not playing or sharing with others
Typical Milestones

According to the Mayo Clinic, these age-related cues may prompt further investigation:

  • 6 months: an absence of big smiles/joyful expressions
  • 9 months: not mimicking sounds, smiles or other facial expressions
  • 12 months: not responding to their name or gesturing (i.e., pointing or waving)
  • 16 months: no single spoken words
  • 24 months: no two-word phrases
  • Any age thereafter: loss of a previously acquired language or social skill

Mental health concerns as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder can have a significant impact on one’s life. One out of five children/youth struggle with mental health issues that are severe enough to seriously affect their daily functioning at home, school or within the community. It can happen to any young person, regardless of age or circumstance. The causes are varied and complex. There is no one to blame and there should be no shame in it. Mental health problems are recognizable and can be treated. Early intervention is critical to providing a hopeful and healthy future for kids dealing with mental health issues. The most common mental health disorders are anxiety, depression, attention deficit and behaviour.

Recognizing the signs is key. It can be difficult for a parent to distinguish between ‘normal’ problems that all children and youth experience from time to time, and behaviour that may be indicative of a mental health disorder.

The following characteristics and behaviours may be sign of an underlying mental health disorder
  • Getting significantly lower marks in school
  • Avoiding family and friends
  • Frequent outburst of anger and rage
  • Losing his or her appetite
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Rebelling against authority
  • Drinking a lot or using drugs
  • Not doing the things he or she used to enjoy
  • Worrying constantly
  • Experiencing frequent mood swings
  • Not concerned with his or her appearance
  • Obsessed with his or her weight
  • Lacking energy or motivation
  • Hitting or bullying other children
  • Attempting to injure him or her self

Anxiety Canada

Autism Job Club

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

E-Mental Health

Distress Centres Halton

Food for Kids

Good to Talk

Halton Our Kids Network

Kids Help Phone Line

Ontario Caregiver Helpline

Mental Health Commission of Canada

Mind Your Mind

Parents for Children’s Mental Health (PCMH)

The New Mentality – Disable the Label

Why Not Youth Centres

Youth Aiding Youth (ROCK)