Recognizing the characteristics of autism in infants and toddlers can play a crucial role in early screening, surveillance and intervention. Although autism is typically diagnosed after two years of age, signs are often present in the first year of their baby's life. It's important to remember that every child develops at their own pace, however it is important to understand the presentation of potential indicators, especially when they appear in a cluster, or appear in a child who has a pre-existing likelihood to be diagnosed with autism (e.g., neurodivergent sibling or parent).
From 1-4 months of age
Not following moving objects with their eyes: Babies typically begin tracking and following objects with their eyes at around 2 to 3 months of age. A lack of visual tracking may indicate a potential sign of autism.
Sensitivity to loud noises: Excessive startle responses or heightened sensitivity to loud sounds might be observed in infants with autism during their early months.
Limited facial expression: Babies with autism may display minimal facial expressions, including reduced smiling, eye contact, and limited responsiveness to social cues.
Poor facial recognition (especially new faces): Difficulties in recognizing and responding to new faces could be an early indicator of autism in babies.
From 5 to 8 months of age
Disinterest in certain sounds: Infants with autism may exhibit a lack of interest in specific sounds, failing to turn their heads to locate the source of the sound.
Perceived lack of affection: Babies with autism might show less interest in physical affection, such as cuddling or being held, compared to typically developing infants.
Limited babbling: Delayed or limited babbling, including a lack of cooing, repetitive sounds, or limited vocalization, can be an early sign of autism.
Limited verbal expression: Babies with autism may not laugh or make squealing sounds as frequently as their peers.
Delayed reaching and grasping: Infants with autism may have difficulties reaching for and grasping objects within the expected timeframe.
Limited facial expressions and emotional reactivity: Babies with autism may exhibit reduced spontaneous smiling and emotional responsiveness.
From 9 to 12 Months of age
Limited crawling: Babies who do not show signs of crawling or have significant delays in crawling may warrant further assessment.
Avoidance of eye contact: Babies with autism might avoid making eye contact with their caregivers or others, which can be an important indicator to consider.
Limited or incomprehensible speech: Delayed or limited speech development, including difficulties in understanding or producing words, may be observed.
Reduced use of gestures: Babies with autism may not engage in common gestures like waving, shaking their head, or pointing to objects or pictures.
Unsteady balance and standing difficulties: Infants who demonstrate difficulty in maintaining balance or an inability to stand even with support may warrant attention.
Additional characteristics often reported or observed in children that later go on to receive an autism diagnosis:
Reacting in an unexpected way to new faces.
Rarely smiling in social situations.
Making little or no eye contact.
Difficulty in following objects with their eyes.
Lack of response when their name is called.
Limited or no reaction to loud sounds or failure to locate the source.
Overreacting to certain sounds.
Lack of interest in interactive games, such as peek-a-boo.
Limited imitation of sounds and words.
Restricted use of gestures like pointing or waving.
Lack of imitating the actions of others.
Discomfort with physical touch or cuddling.
Unusual or repetitive body movements.
If you observe a cluster of these signs in your child, reach out to a Pediatric Autism Specialist who specializes working with infants and toddlers.
Listen to your gut. If you feel something is off, don't wait and see. Every Month Counts!