Early Signs of Autism

Did you know that the early signs of autism can be observed as early as 9 months of age?  Despite this, the average age of diagnosis of autism remains at 4-5 years of age. Although autism can be reliably diagnosed at 18-24 months of age, a child can be diagnosed with autism as early as 13 months of age, but not as reliably. It is important to learn the early signs, and hone your observation tools as a parent to be able to detect the subtle, early signs of autism so that early intervention can be started as soon as possible.

Beginning intervention as early as possible can change the trajectory of your child’s development, closing the developmental gap before your child falls farther behind his/her peers developmentally. Research  demonstrates the effectiveness of parent implemented intervention: https://health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/intervention-in-6-month-olds-with-autism-ameliorates-symptoms-alleviates-developmental-delay/2014/09  Early Start Autism offers evidence-based parent coaching in person, and through telehealth to equip you with the skills to help your child reach his/her greatest potential. Early Start Autism also offers intensive one-on-one early intervention, please see Services page to learn more.

Diagnosing autism can be difficult as there is no blood test, or medical tests to diagnose autism. The early signs are easy to miss, and each child will present with different symptoms in varying degrees. An autism diagnosis is based on behavioral traits, which is why it is important to have a trained professional evaluate your child, such as: a pediatrician, a neurologist, or a doctorate level psychologist. A child can be screened for autism, and begin autism specific early intervention without an official autism diagnosis. A child does not need a diagnosis to begin early intervention with Early Start Autism.

Many parents of a child with autism may describe their child as such a “good baby” because the child can play by themselves for hours at a time. See other key early signs listed below.

  • Child has lack of interest in social interactions with others, and rarely initiates play with parent
  • Child may interact with parent some socially, but parent has to work hard to get child to interact and socially smile
  • Child has more interest in toys and objects, and how these work and move, than with getting parents to play with him/her
  • Child may play with toys in unusual ways such as: becoming fixated on spinning a toy, or lining up toys, opening and closing doors repetitively, or dropping toys repeatedly
  • Child may move their hands, or body repetitively
  • Child may become fixated on looking at hands, or at certain objects
  • Child may under-react to sensory input, and may seek out touching objects, crashing into things, or not react to pain like other children

Other parents may describe their child as “fussy,” as the child may insist on sameness in routines and may over-react to sensory input.

  • Child may become upset, and even gag, if new foods and textures are introduced
  • Child may not want to touch certain textures
  • Child may become upset if you do not follow the same order in your routines, or move the placement of objects
  • Child may become upset if another person tries to interact with child’s toy in a different way than the child wanted to

Young children with autism have delayed development of communication, and are not as interested in sharing social interactions with others. They may not babble often, share back and forth social smiles, or gesture often.

  • A child may have autism even if they do make eye contact
  • Child may not respond to his/her name consistently
  • Child may have a flat affect – not smile often, or show emotions through facial expressions
  • Child has delayed development of age appropriate babbling sounds such as “ma ma, da da, ta ta”
  • Child may use the parent’s hand as a tool, leading the parent to what the child wants, instead of looking at the parent and the object, and then gesturing to what he/she wants
  • Child may not use gestures frequently or at all. These early gestures include:
    – reaching arms up to be picked up (10 months)
    – showing an object to parent to share their enjoyment (11 months)
    – waving hello and goodbye in a social way (11 months)
    – beginning to point, starting with an open hand to draw parent’s attention to an object child is interested in (12 months)
  • A child beginning to talk may repeat lines from videos, instead of using their own words and ideas to communicate, or may speak with little inflection in their voice.

To learn more about autism in toddlers, and to see videos of children showing early signs of autism visit https://autismnavigator.com/. If you have concerns about your child’s development, consult your pediatrician, and your state’s federally-funded early intervention program https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/parents/state-text.html. Please be aware that many pediatricians wrongly advise concerned parents to “wait and see.” If you are told this when you bring your concerns to your child’s pediatrician, you may wish to seek a second opinion to find a doctor who will listen to, and investigate your concerns about your child’s development.

Learn how Early Start Autism can partner with you to help your child reach his/her greatest potential. 
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