Ask the expert: 'Is my son autistic?'
Q: 'My four-year-old son prefers to play on his own, has had trouble learning to speak properly, and doesn't like being hugged. Could he be autistic?'
A: Caroline Hattersley, head of information and advice at the National Autistic Society in the UK, says: "Autism is a spectrum condition and will affect each person in a different way. However, there are some key traits which are common to all children with autism - these are impairments in social interaction, social communication and imagination.
"This means your child may have difficulty relating to others and making friends, and difficulty in communicating - some children may not talk at all, others might be very talkative but find it difficult to judge when they should allow someone else to speak. Some may struggle to understand things like imaginative play.
"Other signs of autism include a particular interest in one or more subjects (eg. trains, a favourite toy or television programme), fears, a lack of awareness of danger, ritualistic play and behaviour, inappropriate eye contact or hypersensitivity to sound, light etc.
"A child doesn't need to show all these signs to be diagnosed with autism, and some children who don't have autism may also exhibit some of these behaviours.
"It's important to remember that all children develop differently and at different stages. While some of the behaviours you describe might be signs of autism, there might also be other explanations, so the first thing to do would be to seek professional advice.
"Take a note of the behaviours your child's displaying, and see your GP to discuss your concerns.
"Autism is a lifelong disability. It's World Autism Awareness Day on April 2."