Early Signs of Autism

Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may show developmental difference when they are babies - especially in social and language skills. However, because they typically sit, crawl and walk on time, less obvious difference in the development of gesture, pretend play and social language often go unnoticed. In addition to spoken language delays and behavioral differences, families may also notice differences in how their child interacts with his or her peers. Remember, one child with ASD can have different symptoms from another child with ASD - the number and severity of symptoms can vary greatly.

Examples of Social Differences in Children with Autism

  • Doesn't keep eye contact or makes very little eye contact
  • Doesn't respond to a parent's smile or mimic other facial expressions
  • Doesn't look at objects or events a parent is looking at or pointing to
  • Doesn't point to objects or events to get a parent to look at them
  • Doesn't bring objects of personal interest to show a parent
  • Doesn't have appropriate facial expressions (i.e. sad when others are happy)
  • Unable to understand what others might be thinking or feeling by looking at at their facial expressions
  • Doesn't show concern for others
  • Unable to make friends or uninterested in making friends

Examples of Communication Differences in Children with Autism

  • Doesn't point at things to indication needs
  • Doesn't share things with others
  • Doesn't say single words by 16 months of age
  • Repeats exactly what others say without understanding the meaning (parroting or echoing)
  • Doesn't respond to own name being called but does respond to other sounds (like a car horn or a cat's meow)
  • Refers to self as "you" and others as "I" and may mix up pronouns
  • Often doesn't seem to want to communicate with others
  • Doesn't start or can't continue a conversation
  • Doesn't use toys or objects to represent people or real life in pretend play
  • May have a very good memory, especially for numbers, letters, songs, TV jingles or a specific topic
  • May lose language or other social milestones, usually between the ages of 15 and 24 months (regression)

Examples of Behavioral Differences (Repetitive and Obsessive Behaviors) in Children with Autism

  • Rocks, spins, sways, twirls fingers, walks on toes for a long time or flaps hands
  • Likes routines, order and rituals; has difficulty with change
  • Obsessed with a few or unusual activities, doing them repeatedly during the day
  • Plays with parts of toys instead of the whole toy
  • Doesn't seem to feel pain
  • May be very sensitive or not sensitive at all to smells, sounds, lights, textures and touch
  • Unusual use of vision or gaze - looks at objects from unusual angles

How to Distinguish a Child with Autism from Other Typically Developing Children

Here are some examples that may help you identify early signs of autism.

  • At 12 Months
    • A child with typical development will turn his or head when he hears his name
    • A child with ASD might not turn to look, event if his name is repeated several times, but will respond to other sounds.
  • At 18 Months
    • A child with delayed speech skills will point, gesture or use facial expressions to make up for lack of talking.
    • A child with ASD might make no attempt to compensate for delayed speech or might limit speech to parroting what is heard on TV or what she just heard.
  • At 24 Months
    • A child with typical development brings a picture to their parent and shares joy from it with them.
    • A child with ASD might bring their parent a bottle of bubbles to open, but he does not look at his parent's face when she does or share in the pleasure of playing together.

Trust Your Own Instincts

If you have concerns about how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts or moves, talk with your pediatrician. Before you go to the appointment, complete a free developmental milestone checklist, and read the tips online at www.cdc.gov/actearly. Remember, you know your child better than anyone and your concerns are important. Together, you and your doctor will find the best way to help your child.

If you or your doctor are still concerned, contact Behavior Care Specialists.

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