Greg Gerkens is a special education science teacher in Wyandanch, New York. He has also served as an assistant principal in Centereach. Outside of his work in education, Greg Gerkens supports a number of not-for-profit organizations, including Autism Speaks.
According to Autism Speaks, one of the most important steps family members can take to help in its cause is to learn the early signs of autism spectrum disorder. Parents or guardians who notice any of the common signs of autism spectrum disorder should contact a trusted pediatrician.
Facial expressions are a common early indicator of autism spectrum disorder. Around six months of age, most children begin to demonstrate smiles and happy expressions during times of joy and excitement. Children who fail to indicate happiness through facial cues by six months of age may be showing signs of the disorder, although they may simply be developing at a different rate than other infants.
Similarly, normally developing children have a tendency to smile when others smile at them. Mimicry is a useful tool for infants, and as they age they begin to mimic sounds and other expressions, typically at around nine months. Again, a child may reach this milestone at a later date, but delays in reaching this benchmark should prompt a visit to the family doctor.
Additional signs of autism spectrum disorder include the inability to point or gesture with the hands by 12 months, lack of speech at 16 months, and any regression in these or other areas at any point of development. To learn more about the disorder and its early signs, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.