Early Signs of Autism

Close-up of a woman smiling with her son
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If your baby otherwise seems to be growing and developing normally, then any single sign or behavior is probably not a sign of autism. Instead, it is important to pay attention to how your baby is progressing and whether he is meeting other normal developmental milestones that you would expect for his age, such as smiling, ability to be comforted, cooing, and laughing. It is always important to discuss any concerns you have about your baby's development with your pediatrician.

Early Signs of Autism

Parents and pediatricians are often able to spot early signs and symptoms that alert them a child needs further evaluation for autism. These include:

  • not smiling by six months of age
  • not babbling, pointing or using other gestures by 12 months
  • not using single words by age 16 months
  • not using two-word phrases by 24 months
  • having a regression in development, with any loss of language or social skills
  • arching back away from caregiver to avoid physical contact

Infants with autism might also avoid eye contact and as they get older, act as if they are unaware of when people come and go around them.

Other Signs of Autism

Keep in mind that autism often isn't diagnosed until about age 3, although some experts believe that some children begin to show subtle signs as early as six months of age.

There is also an autism study that showed that some children with autism had abnormal brain growth.

Specifically, they had a smaller than average head size at birth (at the 25th percentile), but then had a period of rapid head growth during which their head size moved up to the 84th percentile by age 6-14 months. But rapid head growth is not a sign in all kids with autism.

Keep in mind that some signs and symptoms of autism overlap with those of other conditions.

For example, back arching may be of gastroesophageal reflux rather than autism, although you would usually expect other symptoms, like spitting up and being fussy.

Getting an Evaluation for Autism

One of the frustrating things that occurs when parents think something is wrong with their child's development is that they may be told "not to worry" or that they "should just wait".

Experts think that it is better for parents to trust their instincts and get their child evaluated if they think that they aren't developing normally. This guide from ​First Signs is a good resource for parents trying to share their concerns with their pediatrician. 

Your local early childhood development program may also be able to do an evaluation if you are concerned about your child's development. This quiz on early warning signs of autism may also be helpful.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Identification and Evaluation of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pediatrics 2007 120: 1183-1215.

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