Spotting Autism Early in Children

Key signs to look for in your child’s development

young child covering his face

About 1 in 88 children have been diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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This group of disorders includes all developmental disabilities that can cause behavioral, social and communication challenges.

If your child shows signs that he or she is not developing normally, it’s critical to take action as early as possible. There are ways to spot signs of developmental trouble.

Early normal development

Autism expert Thomas Frazier, PhD, says the earliest you can really look for signs of autism is about 12 months old.

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Kids developing normally should respond to their name, even just looking in the direction of the person who says it, says Dr. Frazier.

Small children should also be babbling or using single words when trying to make a request.

What should be happening by age 2

Dr. Frazier says by age 24 months children should be putting words together.

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“We look for that as a very specific sign that kids are developing appropriately,” he says. “Socially we want to see if they are engaging in a back-and-forth fashion. It doesn’t even have to be verbal. It can be just using their body language, the way they look at the parent, the way they interact.”

Signs and symptoms of autism

Dr. Frazier notes that small children flapping their hands, spinning around in circles and rocking their bodies may be showing signs of inappropriate development.

Other signs of autism can include:

  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeating words and phrases over and over
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not pointing at objects to show interest by age 14 months
  • Getting unusually upset by minor changes
  • Obsessive interests
  • Trouble understanding other people’s feelings and talking about their own

What do if your child is diagnosed with autism

If you see these signs early on in your child and autism is diagnosed, Dr. Frazier advises that you ask your pediatrician or healthcare provider what you need to do immediately. Early intervention is often a key element of treatment.

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