How to Recognize Signs of Autism in Infants

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

Autism symptoms commonly appear during infancy or early childhood. The disorder affects various areas of development, which include verbal and non-verbal communication, relating to people and surroundings along with demonstrations of unusual thinking abilities or behaviors. Recognizing and diagnosing autism as early as possible can make the difference in these areas.

Regression

Some little ones start out developing normally and then regress sometime between 12 and 24 months. A youngster may initially use single words to identify people, objects or needs then suddenly stop talking completely. Another child might play common gesture games with parents then no longer seem interested. Whenever a young child loses speech, gesturing ability or other types of social skills, parents should seek a reason.

Common Signs

Some telling indications of developmental delays that could point to autism include:

• Six months-not smiling or demonstrating other expressions of happiness
• Nine months-No attempts at carrying on a conversation through sounds
• Nine months- A total lack of facial expressions
• 12 months-Does not respond to their name
• 12 months-Does not babble or verbalize
• 12 months-A lack of pointing, reaching, showing or waving gestures
• 16 months-A lack of spoken words
• 24 months-Does not use two-word phrases independently

New Findings

In recent years, a group of researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine developed the means to evaluate the way babies look at faces. Autistic infants do not look at human faces in the same way compared to unaffected babies. The eye-tracking approach required that infants watch videos of still faces, expressive faces and people talking. The scientists learned that autistic infants are not as interested in looking at faces. They particularly avoid gazing at the eye and mouth regions when someone is speaking.

What to Do

Parents are often the first people to notice that something is not quite right with their child. Parents must educate themselves concerning what is and what is not appropriate development. Keep track of an infant's development using standards of growth as a guide. Consider that noticeable delays may not indicate a current state of autism. However, the child may be at risk for the disorder.

If you suspect that your child seems behind in particular areas of growth, do not automatically assume that something is wrong. What constitutes normal covers a wide span. However, if your gut instinct suggests there is a definite problem, feel free to consult with your health care provider. Some may suggest that parents merely monitor the situation. But, if the child indeed demonstrates early signs of autism, waiting is not the answer. Delaying diagnosis and treatment only puts the child at risk for stifled growth. Insist that the child undergo the proper evaluation. Be persistent. Schedule follow-up appointments if needed, or get a second opinion. Perhaps seek the advice of a child development expert.

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