As a parent, you never want to believe that your precious bundle has a problem. But when it comes to autism, catching it early—ideally by the age of eighteen months - makes a huge difference. But no matter your child's age, don't lose hope. Treatment can reduce the disorder's effects and help your child learn, grow, and thrive.

The signs and symptoms of autism vary widely, as do its effects. Some autistic children have only mild impairments, while others have more obstacles to overcome. However, every child on the autism spectrum has problems, at least to some degree, in the following three areas:

 

  • Communicating verbally and non-verbally

  • Relating to others and the world around them

  • Thinking and behaving flexibly

 

There are different opinions among doctors, parents, and experts about what causes autism and how best to treat it, but also there is much that we still don’t know. There is one fact, however, that everyone agrees on: early and intensive intervention helps. For children at risk and children who show early signs, it can make all the difference.

 

 

As a parent, you’re in the best position to spot the earliest warning signs of autism. You know your child better than anyone and observe behaviors and quirks that a pediatrician, in a quick fifteen-minute visit, might not have the chance to see. Your child’s pediatrician can be a valuable partner, but don’t discount the importance of your own observations and experience. The key is to educate yourself so you know what’s normal and what’s not.

 

  • Monitor your child’s development. Autism involves a variety of developmental delays, so keeping a close eye on when—or if—your child is hitting the key social, emotional, and cognitive milestones is an effective way to spot the problem early on. While developmental delays don’t automatically point to autism, they may indicate a heightened risk.

 

  • Take action if you’re concerned. Every child develops at a different pace, so you don’t need to panic if your child is a little late to talk or walk. When it comes to healthy development, there’s a wide range of “normal.” But if your child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or you suspect a problem, share your concerns with your child’s doctor immediately. Don’t wait.

 

  • Don’t accept a wait-and-see approach. Many concerned parents are told, “Don’t worry” or “Wait and see.” But waiting is the worst thing you can do. You risk losing valuable time at an age where your child has the best chance for improvement. Furthermore, whether the delay is caused by autism or some other factor, developmentally delayed kids are unlikely to simply “grow out” of their problems. In order to develop skills in an area of delay, your child needs extra help and targeted treatment.

 

  • Trust your instincts. Ideally, your child’s doctor will take your concerns seriously and perform a thorough evaluation for autism or other developmental delays. But sometimes, even well-meaning doctors miss red flags or underestimate problems. Listen to your gut if it’s telling you something is wrong, and be persistent. Schedule a follow-up appointment with the doctor, seek a second opinion, or ask for a referral to a child development specialist.

 

 

 

The following delays warrant an immediate evaluation by your child’s pediatrician.

 

  • By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions

  • By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions

  • By 12 months: Lack of response to name

  • By 12 months: No babbling or “baby talk”

  • By 12 months: No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving

  • By 16 months: No spoken words

  • By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases that don’t involve imitating or repeating

© 2021 AttachAvi Autism Foundation.

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