Aspergers in toddlers is much more difficult to assess than in school-age children. Toddlers are naturally egocentric, may have gross motor issues, and can often be shy or avoid eye contact. The M-CHAT is a tool used to discover autism signs in children from 16 to 30 months of age.
Aspergers in toddlers may look like the examples below in a preschool classroom or day care setting. It is important to remember that if a child is showing any of these signs, it may still be too early to diagnose the child with Aspergers Syndrome since toddlers develop at different speeds. Some of these could just be signs of shyness, and he or she may become more comfortable as she grows older or gets used to the preschool program. Any concerns should always be addressed with administrators, parents, and doctors, so they can make the medical decisions.
Aspergers in toddlers:
- Toddlers may avoid eye contact, not looking at teachers, parents, or classmates for more than a second or two; or children may stare at the teacher or parent for long intervals.
- Toddlers may not react to teachers' or parents' facial expressions. For example, when a parent smiles, the child does not smile back.
- When the child begins talking, he quickly has a highly-developed vocabulary and advanced sentence structure. However, he is not social. The child does not want to interact with parents and children when he is talking. He may often have one-sided conversations about what he is interested in such as a certain toy or television show. People may comment that he talks so well, but he has a flat tone.
- Toddlers can have a "meltdown" when their sensories are overloaded. This can be an extreme fit with crying and throwing himself on the floor, or he could roll up into a ball and not allow anyone to comfort him. These sensory overloads may be shocking to some teachers or students since the scent, light, or noise did not affect other toddlers in the room.
- Most children who are 16-months old are walking; however Aspergers may affect a child's gross motor skills. These children may be late walkers and have trouble with climbing structures or playing with balls.
If you have concerns about toddlers in your preschool class, then you can read over the M-CHAT questions to see which symptoms doctors look for in toddlers. M-CHAT stands for Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, and some of the questions focus on Aspergers in toddlers. Since Aspergers Syndrome is a high-functioning form of autism, some questions on the M-CHAT may not apply to the student you are concerned about. Look carefully at M-CHAT questions about gross motor skills and social issues since those pertain to children with Asperger's Syndrome.
Basically, you can use the M-CHAT questionnaire to gather information and focus your observations on a student before you set up a conference with parents. Detailed notes about a child's behavior and social interactions in the preschool classroom are one of the first steps to determining whether or not a child has Asperger's Syndrome or possibly another autism disorder. Doctors will often have teachers fill out checklists since they spend a majority of the day with the child, and you can use your observation notes to help you.