Understanding the Signs of Autism
When it comes to our kids, some parents know when something isn’t right. And when it comes to autism, receiving a diagnosis after months or even years of suspicion reaffirms this instinct. For others, the signs aren’t as clear for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the child doesn’t show characteristic signs or the parents do not know what signs they should be looking out for. Regardless, understanding the signs of autism is an essential lesson for all parents.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder that, according to the CDC, affects 1 in 59 children in the US. Autism can cause problems with a child’s social skills, behavior, and communication. The increased rate of children diagnosed with autism has raised eyebrows in recent years. While this increase can be attributed to a variety of things, the reality is that people are becoming better at recognizing the signs. This is great news as early intervention has been shown to bring the highest chances for success.
- 1 in 37 boys is diagnosed with autism, making boys four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.
- 1 in 151 girls is diagnosed with autism.
- Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. However, minority groups tend to be diagnosed later and less often.
- Autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as two years of age.
- Older parents have a higher chance of having a child with autism.
- Vaccines do not cause autism.
Signs of Autism
A child who has autism may have some or all of the signs listed below. The signs are broken down by milestones based on the child’s age. Contact your child’s pediatrician for screening if they are showing any of the following signs.
Please note that not all infants show signs of autism early on. For some, the signs do not appear until age two or three.
By 6 months
- Little or no eye contact
- Minimal joyful expressions, smiles, or other engaging behaviors
By 12 months
- Little or no responding by turning their head when their name is called
- Little or no babbling
- Little or no back and forth gestures such as pointing
By 18 months
- Very few or minimal words, some children may only parrot what they hear being said on the television or by others.
By 24 months
- Little or no meaningful two-word phrases. Phrases or words that are parroted do not count.
There aren’t any special tests available for diagnosing autism. If a parent suspects autism, they should contact their child’s pediatrician for a screening. Bear in mind that pediatricians begin watching for any signs of autism starting at a child’s first well visit. This is one of the many reasons it is critical that children regularly be seen for well-child visits according to the AAP’s recommended schedule. If a child is not reaching certain milestones, it doesn’t mean they have autism, but they should be screened as soon as possible.
Parents are one of the best at recognizing any developmental deficiencies in their child. For more information on autism, here are a few recommended resources:
CDC’s: Learn the Signs. Act Early. Includes a milestone tracker and a wealth of other information to help parents.
American Academy of Pediatrics: How Pediatrician’s Screen for Autism
Autism Speaks: A Parent’s Guide to Autism
American Academy of Pediatrics: Autism Resource List