Signs of Autism

Do you have questions about your child’s development?   Most children across the US  are not diagnosed with autism until 4 to 5 years of age, while recent research has shown that the early signs of autism begin to unfold from 9 to 16 months. Early detection and early intensive intervention have shown to have a profound impact on the quality of life for children at risk and their families. 

While the American Academy of Pediatrics’s current recommendation is to screen all toddlers ages 18 to 24 months, it’s never too premature to contact your doctor if you notice possible signs of autism.

Research surrounding autism in babies is limited, and the few early signs we do know from the research are easy to miss. Between 9-18 months there are a few absolute indicators, often referred to as “red flagswhich indicate a child should be evaluated for autism.

What are the Red Flags of Autism Spectrum Disorder in babies 9 to 16 months:  

It is hard to get your baby to look at you.  

Babies are motivated to be near you, look at your face and linger their gaze on your eyes.

Your child rarely shares enjoyment with you.  

Babies readily share the enjoyment with you by smiling or looking at you.  Some children show little facial expression or have a flat affect and rarely smile so you may not know when they are happy.

Your child rarely shares their interests with you. 

Babies are eager to share with you, first with gestures like showing and pointing, and then with sounds and words. In order to discover what your baby is interested in, notice what they are paying attention to. 

Your child rarely responds to their name or other means of getting their attention.  

Babies are tuned to listen to your voice – when you call their name, they respond by looking at you.  Some children with autism don’t respond by looking where you’re pointing or waving “bye-bye” when you leave.

Your child displays limited use of gestures, especially showing and pointing.  

Babies are eager to draw your attention to things they’re interested in using gestures such as showing and pointing by 12-14 months of age.  These early gestures propel the development of words.

There is little or no imitating other people or pretending.  

By 13 months, children begin to learn by observing others and copying what they do and say.  From this form of imitation, they learn to pretend in play.  They may offer you a sip with a cup or bottle or give their teddy bear a hug and cover him with a blanket.  Children with autism usually have strengths in using objects in solitary play such as putting together train tracks, building towers with blocks, etc.

They might use your hand as a tool.  

Because children with autism may have limited use of early gestures such as giving, reaching, raising arms, waving, and pointing, they may develop unusual ways to communicate, like pushing your hand toward a desired object instead of pointing to the object.   

Your baby is more interested in objects than people.  

Babies are eager to interact with people and use objects as a way to get your attention. If your baby focuses much of her attention on objects, rather than on faces, or people, this may be a warning sign. 

They may show unusual ways of moving their fingers, hands, or body.  

They may show unusual stiffening or flaring of their fingers or unusual ways of posturing or moving their hands or body.

They may repeat unusual movements with objects.  

Unusual movements with objects may be: spinning or wobbling, knocking over and rolling, and lining things up or other repetitive actions that are unusual for their age.

They may develop rituals and may get very upset over change.  

Babies usually flow with changes in routines such as ending an activity early or adding a new step.  A child with autism may insist on certain things being the same and get very upset over unexpected change.  

They may show excessive interest in particular objects or activities

An intense interest can lead to skills that are advanced for their age, such as building with blocks or learning about shapes, letters, or numbers.  This interest may be so intense that it’s difficult to shift their attention away from an object of interest to something else. 

They may be very focused on or attached to unusual objects.  

Such as long strips of cloth, utensils, rocks, sticks, flowing water, or gadgets they can take apart and put together.

They show unusual reactions to sound, sights, or textures.  

They may get overly excited about a page in a book or hold their hands over their ears in response to a loud sound or squint or flap their hands to certain lights or gag when they eat food with certain textures.

They show strong interest in unusual sensory experiences.  

Such as excessive rubbing of certain textures, looking out the side of their eyes or closely inspecting a block or toy train as it rolls by, or licking objects.

Anyone of these signs may not be a problem, but in combination, they may signal a need to conduct a screening or diagnostic evaluation.

As a general guide, if your child is between 9 to 18 months and shows any 4 of these early signs, please reach out to your pediatrician and ask for a developmental screening.

If your child shows 8 or more of these early signs, ask for a referral for a diagnostic evaluation.  Early detection and early intervention can have a lifetime impact for children with autism.  This opportunity to catch signs of autism early in development can help guide your child toward success.”

CAC offers free screenings and has additional resources available to help guide parents with concerns about their child’s development.