Autism is a spectrum—and every case is different. Here are common signs to look out for.
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.”
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Typically, the lack of language
development is a trigger for
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parents to be somewhat concerned, and
so, that tends to be really young.
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Kids are supposed to be using words, and
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maybe even joining words together
by one and a half to two.
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Pediatricians start to screen for
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As early as 18 months, 18 to 24 months,
and we can see signs of autism,
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as young as children that are turning one,
but the diagnosis takes time,
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so right now, we mostly commonly
see the true diagnosis, and
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around age two to three.
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Pediatricians at every check up
that you go to, will be observing, and
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talking to you about maybe
early signs of autism.
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So if your child isn't babbling or
pointing by age 1,
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no single words by age 16 months,
or two-word phrases by age 2,
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they don't respond to their
name when you call them.
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Another very important red
flag would be if your child's not
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If they don't make eye contact with you,
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that is something that should
be investigated, as well.
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And there's some other behaviors
that appear pretty stereotypical in
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the Autism Spectrum Disorder, one of them
is Echolalia, which a very fancy way,
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they're gonna repeat everything you say.
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They're gonna repeat the word you
say over, and over, and over again.
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Another one is repetitive movements,
or restrictive movements.
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Meaning, if your child likes to do
the exact same thing with a toy, and
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doesn't like to explore other
parts of the toy, for example,
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if they're just spinning the wheel.
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Or if they're restricted, meaning,
they just wanna stack cans, and
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they don't wanna do anything else.
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Any type of abnormal behavior you notice,
should raise enough of a flag to talk to
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to at least get them screened.
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So if you go to your well-child visit,
and the pediatrician has concerns,
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they might refer you to a psychologist to
have a more comprehensive evaluation, so
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they can figure out some of
the specifics symptoms, and
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if they actually match with
an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
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Remember, autism is a spectrums.
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You can have a very
high-functioning autistic child, or
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one that's low-functioning, but
if you get early intervention,
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it could make a world of a difference.
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Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on August 8, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html)
What are the symptoms of autism? Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (Accessed on August 8, 2018 at https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/symptoms)