One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.
Children with autism will have symptoms from a very young age, beginning before the age of three. Some children with an ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. Other children appear to develop normally until 18–24 months, then either stop gaining new skills or lose some they’ve already developed. While every child develops differently, we also know that early treatment improves outcomes, often dramatically.
AutismSpeaks.org and MyAutism.org identifies the following “red flags” that may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, please don’t delay in asking for an evaluation:
- Avoidance of eye contact
- No response to name by 12 months
- Loss of speech, or delayed speech and language skills
- No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months or thereafter
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months
- Has difficulty talking about feelings of their own or other people’s feelings
- No spontaneous play of “pretend” games (such as pretend feed a doll) by 18 months
- Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
- Gets upset by minor changes in routine or environment
- Has obsessive interests
- Demonstrates hand flapping, body rocking, or spinning in circles
- Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel
Current American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines call for screening all toddlers at 18 and 24 months, the age at which existing screening methods are best able to identify children with autism. More recently developed psychological testing now allows for detection as early as 12 months of age. Early detection of autism allows for early intervention with behavior therapies that can improve long-term outcomes.
Pierce K, Carter C, Weinfeld M, et al. Detecting, Studying, and Treating Autism Early: The One-Year Well-Baby Check-Up Approach. Journal of Pediatrics.