Early Signs of Autism You Need to Know

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(Photo: iStock)

As a parent, the last thing you want to think about is the possibility that your precious baby might have a problem. But in the case of autism, being able to recognize the early warning signs is critical in helping your child grow, learn and thrive happily. 

AutismSpeaks.org, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, stresses the importance of recognizing the early signs of autism – ideally no later than 18 months – and seeking early intervention services. Thanks to recent research, it’s been confirmed that appropriate screening can determine whether a child is at risk for autism as early as one year of age. Studies show that once diagnosed, early intensive behavioral intervention improves learning, communication and social skills in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). 

Educating yourself on the early signs of autism is one of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver. Babies with ASD will show delays in several basic areas of development, like learning to talk, play and interact well with other children. 

Since every child develops differently and at his or her own speed, it can sometimes be difficult to assess certain signs and symptoms. However, according to AutismSpeaks.org, there are a handful of “red flags” that might indicate your baby is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. And of course, as always, speak to your pediatrician if your child exhibits any of these symptoms and don’t wait in asking for an evaluation: 

No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter

No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months

No babbling by 12 months

No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months

No words by 16 months

No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months

Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

As a parent, you and only you know your child best. Doctors can assess your baby at his or her check-up appointments, but you are the one who is able to closely observe your baby’s characteristics and quirks better than anyone. Therefore, keep these things in mind while navigating your way through your child’s early months:

Monitor your child’s development closely. Be aware of social, emotional and cognitive milestones.

Take action if you’re concerned. Don’t panic if your baby is a little late on things like talking or walking, but if you do suspect a problem you should share your concerns with your doctor immediately.

Don’t practice the wait-and-see approach. This is the worst thing you can do, because you risk losing valuable time at the age when your baby has the best chance for improvement.

Trust your instincts. Doctors can sometimes miss red flags; if you still think something might be wrong, listen to your gut.

If autism is detected in infancy, treatment can be extremely more effective while the child’s young brain still exhibits plasticity. If you suspect a problem, don’t hesitate in scheduling an autism screen for your baby, which consists of a straightforward yes or no checklist of questions regarding your child’s behavior. If your pediatrician detects any issues, he or she will immediately refer you to a specialist.