The Symptoms of Autism Every Parent Should Know

Autism is a spectrum—and every case is different. Here are common signs to look out for.

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When your child is young, most of what they do and say may not make much sense to you as a parent, but that’s the beauty of watching them learn and grow.

As unpredictable as their behaviors may seem, there are certain patterns that are expected as a child’s brain develops. If a child doesn’t reach specific developmental milestones, such as responding to their name by age 1 or using and joining words by age 2, it may trigger a concern for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that occurs due to differences in the brain. Children with ASD don’t typically look any different from their peers, but how they communicate, interact, behave, and learn sets them apart from others.


Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Children with autism will have challenges with communication, social interaction, and stereotypical behaviors, according to Susan Samuels, MD, psychiatrist with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

Typically, symptoms of autism begin to appear in children around 18 months, although they can set in earlier or later. “Pediatricians start to screen for autism as early as 18 to 24 months, and we can see signs of autism as young as children [who] are turning one,” says Alok Patel, MD, a pediatrician at New York Presbyterian-Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.  

The earliest signs of autism include:

  • Not babbling or pointing by age 1
  • Not speaking single words by 16 months
  • Not responding when name is called
  • Loss of previously acquired skills
  • Poor eye contact
  • Repetitive behavior patterns

It’s helpful to be on the lookout for these signs of ASD, but your pediatrician will be closely watching your child and asking you questions at well-child visits to assess their risk.

“If you go to your well-child visit and your pediatrician has concerns [about autism], they might refer you to a psychologist and have a more comprehensive evaluation,” says Dr. Samuels.

“Autism is a spectrum. So you can have a very high-functioning autistic child or one that’s low-functioning,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital and chief medical editor at HealthiNation. “But if you get early intervention, it can make a world of a difference.”

Learn more about how doctors diagnose and treat autism spectrum disorder.