Early Signs of Autism in Infants and Toddlers

The newest research suggests that autism is now affecting up to 1 in 88 children. That makes it certain that someone you know will have a child affected by this devastating condition in your lifetime.

Research consistently shows that the earlier autism is diagnosed, the more positive the effects of early intervention are. This is due to the unique plasticity (or ability to change) of a baby’s brain. Signs and symptoms of autism can be detected as early as 12 months. Identification by 18 months and beginning early treatment may actually rewire the brain and change the symptoms totally.

Does your baby visually track or respond to bright colors, movement, and familiar people? Is he turning toward sounds? Does your infant show an interest in looking at people’s faces or smile back at you when you smile at him?

If you answered no to any of these questions, your child may need further evaluation.

Early signs of autism in babies and toddlers

  • Doesn’t make frequent eye contact (e.g. look at you when you feed her or talk to her).
  • Doesn’t smile when smiled at or to get your attention.
  • Isn’t beginning to laugh by 6 months
  • Doesn’t respond to his or her name or to the sound of a familiar voice.
  • Doesn’t follow your gaze when you look away towards something.
  • Doesn’t point to show interest
  • Doesn’t wave goodbye or use other gestures to communicate by 1 year
  • Doesn’t follow your gesture when you point things out.
  • Doesn’t make sounds to get your attention.
  • Doesn’t initiate or respond to cuddling or affection.
  • Doesn’t imitate your movements and facial expressions.
  • Doesn’t reach out to be picked up.
  • Doesn’t play with other people or share interest and enjoyment.
  • Doesn’t ask for help or make other basic requests.
  • Doesn’t play “pretend” 9like pretend eating) by 18 months

These signs suggest the need for an immediate evaluation!

  • By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions.
  • By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions.
  • By 12 months: No response to name.
  • By 12 months: No babbling, cooing, or “baby talk.”
  • By 12 months: No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving.
  • By 16 months: No spoken words.
  • By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases that don’t involve imitating or repeating.
  • ANY loss of ANY skills at ANY age (regression is highly related to autism)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for autism during well child visits at 18 and 24 months of age. They hope that early detection will improve the long-term outcome for these children.  If your pediatrician does not do this, be sure to bring up the policy and request that your child be screened.

You, as a parent, are most likely to notice early signs. Don’t rely on your pediatrician who only sees your child for brief visits to identify symptoms or delays.  Make sure you keep track of your baby’s development and be sure they are meeting language, social, and motor milestones. Delays can be suggestive of an autism spectrum disorder, but even if not, your child may still need early intervention.

If you have any concerns about your baby’s development don’t wait; take action immediately. Continue to pursue answers from professionals until your questions and concerns have been met. DO NOT follow along with a “let’s wait and see” approach from your doctor. Waiting is the worst thing that could be done because valuable time for intervention could be lost. I have seen many children be diagnosed years after a parent first expressed concerns because they  were told by their pediatrician to “wait” or see if he “grows out of it.” This is a tragedy because those kids can never get that precious early intervention time back.

Parents’ instincts about something being wrong are usually right!! If your doctor does not take action or listen to your concerns, get a second opinion, contact your local ECI office, or your local school district.

I am trained to provide best practice autism assessments for children as young as 12 months. My specialty in early childhood also provides me with lots of experience with babies developing normally and atypically. Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

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