Part 1 – What Parents Should Look For
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), many parents aren’t aware of the early signs of autism and don’t start thinking about it as a possibility until their child reaches the typical age when they should be talking and they aren’t.
The early years with a child are filled with lots of hope and joy, so it’s understandable for parents to not think about autism. But with the rise of the neurodevelopmental disorder in children now at an all-time high (about 1 in 36 children as of January 2024), parents who suspect something isn’t quite right should know what to look for earlier rather than later. The earlier you know if your child has autism, the earlier you can get them into ABA therapy or other medical interventions which can greatly improve your child’s ability to learn and grow.
When to look for signs of autism
Typically, children show signs of autism between 12-18 months of age. However, autism symptoms can show themselves as early as 6 months. There are also cases of regression, where children stop using language, play, or social skills they’ve already learned. It can happen between 1-2 years of age and even earlier.
What are early signs of autism
Autism can affect many areas of a child’s development. Social and communication skills are two of the biggest areas that can be impacted. Early signs include:
- Reduced or no eye contact
- No response when you say their name or they appear not to hear you
- Lack of emotional responses, like big smiles or engaged expressions
- Not following your gaze or looking at an object you point to
- Not waving or pointing
- Little or no babbling, words, or meaningful two-word phrases
- Few, if any, back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, and other facial expressions
- Having problems with pretend or cooperative play and imitating others
- Loss of previously learned speech, babbling, or social skills
- Persistent repetition of words or phrases
- Repetitive behaviors like flapping of hands, rocking, spinning, etc.
- Unusual and intense interest in certain objects or sensory experiences
- Not understanding simple questions or directions
- Resisting cuddling and holding and preferring playing alone
- Inspecting toys instead of playing with them
- Unusual sensitivity to light, sound, or touch, yet indifferent to pain or temperature
To give you a better idea of what some of these signs look like in real life, this short video from the Kennedy Krieger Institute can help.
Which autism signs warrant professional testing
The Mayo Clinic says your healthcare team may recommend developmental tests if your child hasn’t reach these milestones:
- Babble or coo by 12 months
- Gesture, like pointing or waving, by 14 months
- Loses language or social skills at any age
- Mimic sounds or facial expressions by 9 months
- Play make-believe or pretend by 18 months
- Respond with a smile or happy expression by 6 months
- Say single words by 16 months
- Speak two-word phrases by 24 months
Take the M-CHAT-R autism test
If you’re still not sure if your child is showing early signs of autism, the M-CHAT-R can help. It’s a guided questionnaire that can help you decide whether or not to seek a professional evaluation of your child. It includes 20 specific questions about your child’s behavior and is intended for children between the ages of 16 to 30 months.
You can take the test here for free. No login is required and it only takes a few minutes to determine is your child might be at risk of having autism.
Keep in mind all children are unique
Autism in children can vary greatly in the areas of their development it affects, to what degree or severity, and when a child start showing signs. That’s why we say children are on the spectrum. There’s a wide range of autism symptoms, making each child with autism unique.
If you see any of these signs of autism in your child, always tell your healthcare provider about it. However, seeing signs of autism doesn’t mean your child has autism. You’ll need a professional evaluation and diagnosis to determine that.
Watch for Part 2 of our blog series, “I Think My Child Has Autism,” right here next week to learn the next steps in your journey, including the type of medical professionals you can turn to for testing and a diagnosis. We’ll also explore what’s involved in the testing and diagnostic process.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about autism and ABA therapy, our experts can help. Contact us today!