Comparing Symptoms of Autism in Babies and Toddlers

The first three years of a child’s life are a crucial developmental period involving many visits to the pediatrician for well-baby/child checkups, vaccinations, and developmental screenings. A developmental screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for all children at the 18 and 24 month well visits. The reason for this is that early intervention can make a major difference in the lives of children with ASD. Even before these checkups, though, parents can be on the lookout for indications of ASD. Do you know what to look for? 

The signs of ASD are different for every child but generally involve developmental delay. If your child hasn’t reached the developmental targets expected at certain ages, write down your observations and talk to your child’s pediatrician. By trusting your instincts, you may be able to help your pediatrician identify ASD in your child earlier than the average age of diagnosis in the United States, which is three to six years old. 

Children begin to hit developmental milestones as early as three months of age when they begin to be more expressive and communicative. They begin developing a social smile, focus on faces, and recognize familiar objects and people. They babble, imitate sounds, and smile at the sound of their parents’ voices. By six or seven months they enjoy social play, are interested in mirror images, and respond to their own name and the word “no”. If your child isn’t displaying these early milestones, it may be time to talk to the pediatrician. It should also be a red flag if your 12-month-old child doesn’t transfer objects from hand to hand or engage in back-and-forth movements like waving, reaching, and grabbing.

By about year old, typical children are able to say “mama” and “dada”, repeat sounds for attention, and use simple gestures. They try to imitate words, and between the ages of one and two they’ll start to imitate the behavior of adults and older children. By age three, they can take turns at games, play make-believe, understand most sentences, and speak in four to five-word sentences. A child with ASD, on the other hand, may miss many of these milestones, failing to point at things, smile in response to a smile, make eye contact, or enjoy cuddling. A toddler with ASD may demonstrate unusual speech or movements, or play with toys in an atypical way. At age three, a toddler with ASD might resist make-believe play and playing with other children. You might notice a regression of speech. All of these should be discussed with the pediatrician.

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