7 Red Flags of Autism

The importance of early screenings for children with autistic spectrum disorders

Photo Credit: Getty Images / Natalie Racioppa.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are mental health disorders diagnosed in childhood that are characterized by problems with communication, difficulties in social interaction, and repetitive behaviors. Research speaks to the importance of early screening for these disorders so that behavioral therapy can be introduced as part of an early intervention for children who may display symptoms of autism.

ASD has been found to be about four to five times more common in boys than in girls. As of March 2014, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) have ASD. ASD is reported to occur across all racial and socioeconomic groups.

Parents are able to complete a brief questionnaire at their baby's one-year check up to help pediatricians identify babies who have high risk factors for developing autism. If you suspect that your child might be displaying symptoms of autism, it is best to speak with your pediatrician and request an evaluation.

Following are seven red flags of ASD to be aware of, based on your child's age.

By 6 months:

  • No big smiles or big joyful expressions

By 9 months:

  • No sharing of social expressions or back-and-forth sharing of sounds with parent

By 12 months:

  • No babbling
  • No gestures such as showing, waving, pointing or interacting in this back-and-forth way

    By 16 months:

    • No words

    By 24 months:

    • No two-word phrases that are meaningful

    At any age:

    • Any loss of sounds, speech or social skills, at any time in your child's life

    Further screening information for parents

    The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised (M-CHAT-R™) is an easy to complete online screen for parents which should help you determine whether a professional should evaluate your child.

    If you have any concerns about your child's symptoms, regardless of what results you find from this screening, you should speak with your pediatrician as soon as you are able to.

    If your child is diagnosed with ASD, it is best to start using early intervention treatment services as soon as possible. While some medication might help with some problems associated with ASD, there are no medications that cure ASD or its core symptoms. Early intervention, often in the form of behavioral therapy, is offered until a child turns three years old, and can have multiple benefits for your child and your family.



    Center for Disease Control and Prevention Data and Statistics on autism spectrum disorders (ASD)

    Handleman J S, Harris S, eds. Preschool Education Programs for Children with Autism (2nd ed). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. 2000.

    Pierce K, Carter C, Weinfeld M, Desmond J, Hazin R, Bjork R & Gallagher N. Detecting, Studying and Treating Autism Early: The One-Year Well-Baby Check-Up Approach. Journal of Pediatrics, September 2011;159(3):458-465.

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