Red Flags and Warning Signs of Autism

Knowing the early signs of autism can help with early detection, and therefore early intervention, which has been proven to dramatically increase the effectiveness of therapy.

Below are some of the common ‘red flags’ of autism parents should be aware of:

Decrease or lack of eye contact

Children with autism typically avoid eye contact during interaction with others. By a very early age, babies should be looking at you and responding to your facial expressions.

Decrease or lack of ‘joint attention’

A child who exhibits appropriate ‘joint attention’ would be observed to, during play, look back and forth between their caregiver and toy, and be engaged in the shared activity. Other early examples of joint attention include participating in games such as peek-a-boo and looking in the direction of a pointed finger.

Children with autism typically display difficulties engaging in and enjoying shared experiences with others.

Lack of, or limited babbling or speech

By 12 months of age, babies should be babbling several syllables together with intonation that mimics adult speech. The majority of babies will have at least one ‘true word’ (i.e. “ba-ba” to consistently mean ‘bottle’) by this age.

Lack of appropriate play with toys

Children with autism often display atypical play skills. They may be observed to play with toys inappropriately (i.e. lining up blocks rather than stacking them, spinning the wheels of toy cars rather than rolling them along the floor, spinning objects on the floor rather than using them appropriately). Children with autism may also be observed to furiously flip through pages in books rather than looking at the pictures or listening to the story.

Loss of developmental milestones

Children with autism, often times, lose developmental milestones they have already met. Parents may notice a loss of language, or regression in potty training.

Don’t respond to their name by 12 months

By 12 months of age, babies should consistently make eye contact or respond in some other way to their name being called. Children with autism may not respond even if their caregivers repeat their name several times.

Obsessive interest in objects or themes

Some children with autism may display obsessive interests in specific toys or objects (i.e. wheels, stars, trains). Parents may notice their child is constantly drawn to these items or becomes extremely upset when these items are taken away.

Stimulatory behaviors

Children with autism typically display some form of stimulatory behaviors. These behaviors can appear very different from child to child. Some examples include: spinning, rocking, head banging, hand flapping, finger movements in front of their eyes.

Some children will display verbal stimulatory behaviors. These vocalizations typically sound like humming, or squealing and can be repetitive in nature.

If you suspect your child is displaying any of these early warning signs of autism, an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist, developmental specialist, or neurologist may be warranted.