In very young children, it can be hard to see the early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But babies with ASD do develop differently from other infants, and there are some ‘red flags’ to watch out for.
Autism spectrum disorder and early development
Children all develop at different rates. Health professionals like General Practitioners (GP) and paediatricians check children’s development by looking at whether children are achieving various important milestones. These can be physical, emotional, social, linguistic or behavioural milestones.
In the first year of life, children’s social communication development is an important area to watch for early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Behaviour – or the lack of behaviour – like smiling, eye contact, and the use of gestures can show whether a child is developing in a typical or atypical way.
'When my son was 18 months old, a friend brought her nine-month-old baby to our house. I had so much fun with the baby – there was this constant interaction between us. I realised this was completely absent from my own little boy.'
– Mother of a disabled child, aged four
About early signs of autism spectrum disorder
Some early signs of ASD are usually seen in the first two years. These are listed below.
Some children have many of these early warning signs, whereas others might have only a few. Some behaviour signs can change over time, or become clearer as children get older. Also, any loss of social or language skills during this period is cause for concern.
The number of signs a child has from each list varies according to the age of the child and how severely the child is affected.
If your child is showing some or many of the signs from the lists of red flags below, talk to your health professional about a developmental assessment as soon as possible. Getting a diagnosis is the first step towards helping your child and getting services and support.
Social communication: red flags for autism spectrum disorder
The child doesn’t:
Relationships and play
The child doesn’t:
Behaviour: red flags for autism spectrum disorder
The child is easily upset by change and needs to follow routines – for example, she needs to sleep, eat or leave the house in the same way every time.
The child repeats body movements or has unusual body movements, like back-arching, hand-flapping, arm-stiffening and walking on his toes.