Developmental Delays or Autism: 5 Ways to Tell the Difference

As of 2021, 1 out of 44 children has autism in the United States. 

Today, we can access endless information about childhood development.  Many parents immediately turn to the internet when something appears abnormal in their children. Various developmental delays, disorders, conditions, and more can affect them.

Thus, it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction when we try to research autism and developmental delays.

Read on to learn 5 key differences between autism and developmental delays!

1. Age

Most children begin to show signs of developmental delays very early on. This allows doctors to diagnose children within their first 5 years. Developmental delays come in 4 main forms:

Such early intervention allows parents to get the necessary help as soon as possible. Hence, it sets children up for success, earlier. 

Autism, on the other hand, can take years to diagnose. Autism exists on a spectrum, so milder cases may fly under the radar. This puts many children at a disadvantage since they can go most of their lives without proper accommodations. 

2. Hearing Problems

Early childhood development allows parents to notice their children’s sense nature. One of these senses includes hearing.

Both children with autism and those with developmental delays may experience hearing issues. However, developmental delays mainly occur due to an external issue and/or only affect 1 ear. For example, children can injure themselves or contract multiple ear infections which leads to hearing and language issues.

In contrast, children on the autism spectrum typically have both ears affected without any sustained injury or illness.

3. Social Interaction

Most children with some kind of delay simply miss developmental milestones. It might mean they take extra long to say their first word. Yet, they still have little to no trouble with social interaction. 

Conversely, children with autism may struggle to form bonds with others. They act out of self-interest, i.e., they become extremely fascinated with a specific toy, color, etc.

Praise can fail to motivate them; it won’t make them more or less likely to perform a certain action.

4. Behaviors

Children on the autism spectrum can also display repetitive or restrictive behaviors arbitrarily. This might include random hand-clapping or fixations on various objects.

Additionally, some children struggle to repeat or imitate sounds altogether. They might seem unresponsive in conversations.

Such difficulties require professional help and may call for homeschooling. Today, we can even benefit from a

homeschooling autistic child curriculum

5. Learning

The above shows how autism can affect children throughout their lives, particularly in school. Yet, children with autism may experience no problems retaining or learning information itself. 

But developmental delays, especially cognitive ones, directly impact children’s ability to understand new information. It makes acquiring new skills all the more difficult.

Developmental Delays vs. Autism

Overall developmental delays and autism overlap in some areas. However, some differences do exist. We can experience developmental delays with autism, but just because we have a developmental delay does not necessarily mean we have autism.

Thus, we should do our best to research what we can and receive professional medical assistance/diagnosis when possible.

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