Recognizing the Early Signs of Autism in Infants and Toddlers

Early Signs of Autism

Autism is a complex neurological disorder affecting approximately 1 in 88 children in the US (CDC, 2013). Up until a decade or so ago, parents often had to wait until their child was at least 3, and sometimes until they got to school, before autism could be detected. Today we can recognize symptoms in children as young as 12 months. While no two children with autism are alike (or as I like to say, “when you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism!”), knowing the signs can greatly improve a child’s chances of future success; the earlier a child begins receiving effective treatment, the sooner he or she can begin showing improvement. Following are some of the earliest warning signs of autism.

  1. Lack of Eye Contact: Does your child look at you when you are talking to or playing with him?
  2. Lack of Joint Attention: When you are playing with your baby, does she try to share her interest or enthusiasm with you? For example, does she point at things and want you to see them, too?
  3. Limited/No Language: Is he not yet talking, though developmentally he should be?
  4. Unusual/No Play: Does your child “play” in a manner unlike other children? For example, does she “fixate” on a single object or play with toys in an unusual way (such as opening and closing the door of a toy bus rather than rolling the bus)?
  5. Stereotyped Behaviors: Does your child engage in repetitive motor mannerisms, such as flicking his fingers in front of his eyes over and over?
  6. Limited Social Awareness/Interest: When other children are around, does your child appear uninterested in playing with them, or appear aloof?

Certainly many children may from time to time display some of these behaviors and not have autism. For those for whom these are chronic and persistent characteristics, parents may wish to contact their pediatrician, a psychologist, or other autism-related professional. Research over the last two decades has taught us two important lessons about autism. First, it can be detected early. This is good news because second, early intervention changes lives!

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