Early signs of autism

Q: How early is it possible to detect signs of autism? 

A: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) primarily affects social and communication skills. Because of this, most children with ASD will achieve their motor-developmental milestones, such as sitting, crawling and walking at normal times.

However, some signs of ASD may be observed as early as 2 months of age, when infants begin to smile and start to pay attention to faces. 

After an ASD diagnosis, many parents will recall noticing differences in development with their child during those early stages of social and communication development.

It’s now known that early intervention can help improve outcomes with children with autism. Because of this, many pediatricians and other health-care providers routinely screen all children at their 18-month and 24-month checkups. 

However, if parents have concerns prior to these visits, they should always discuss them with their child’s pediatrician. 

Often, parents will report that their child with ASD won’t respond to his or her name, even after being called multiple times. This can be seen as early as 12 months; a typical 12-month-old should turn toward the person calling their name. 

A child with ASD may likely have a speech delay that becomes noticeable around 18 months of age. 

An 18-month-old child with a speech delay (but without ASD) will try to compensate for a deficit in spoken language by pointing, gesturing or using animated facial expressions to communicate, whereas a child with ASD usually will not.

A third example is that by 24 months of age, most children will engage in interactive play with a caregiver. A child might bring a toy or picture over to a parent to show or share. A child with ASD may bring a toy or picture to a parent, but won’t make any attempt to make eye contact or engage in interactive play or shared activities. 

A good resource for further concerns about ASD is cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly.