Early Signs of Autism

Autism usually isn't diagnosed until about age 3. Some experts believe that, in some cases, children start to show signs of autism as early as 6 months. The goal is always to identify children with disabilities as early as possible so treatment can begin and have its greatest effect. Below is a list of signs to look for in your child at different ages. It is important to remember that none of these factors alone indicate that a child has autism.  However, if you notice several symptoms in your child, you may want to consult a doctor.  

Birth to 6 Months of Age

  • Does not respond to loud sounds
  • Does not make eye contact when interacting with parents
  • Does not follow moving objects with eyes
  • Does not smile
  • Is not affectionate
  • Does not coo or babble
  • Does not respond to interactive games such as peek-a-boo

7 to 12 months

  • Does not look where you point
  • Does not point to objects
  • Does not respond when name is called
  • Does not play with others
  • Does not babble or say simple words

Year 2 (13-24 months)

  • Makes no attempt to speak
  • Does not imitate behaviors or sounds of others
  • Does not point, wave, or grasp to show interest or desire
  • Is indifferent to the people around them; does not notice if others come or go
  • Performs repetitive body motions (e.g., rocking, hand flapping, spinning in circles)     
  • Is overly sensitive to stimuli (e.g., loud sounds, smells, textures, flashes of light)
  • Shows a strong resistance to changes in routine
  • Loses skills (e.g., language, social skills, physical abilities)

Year 3

  • Lack of or avoidance of eye contact
  • Does not play pretend games (e.g., house)
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Limited speech
  • Loss of previously acquired skills

What should I do if I think that my child may have autism?
If you start to suspect that your child is showing a pattern of behaviors consistent with autism, then you should schedule a meeting with your child’s primary health care professional immediately. The primary care physician will complete a basic screen for autism, which will likely consist of observations of your child and questions about your child’s behavior, speech, sleep patterns, eating habits, and general health. This screen will not determine whether your child has autism or not. This initial screen is meant to determine whether additional testing is needed or not. If the doctor feels more tests are needed then your child may be referred to other experts for additional testing. These professionals may include a developmental pediatrician, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a speech-language pathologist, or an occupational therapist. These professionals will conduct more definitive tests to make the decision about whether your child has autism or not.