6 early signs of childhood autism

How to detect autism early in children.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorders (ASD), is a developmental disability that causes significant social, behavior and communication challenges. Because it is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a unique set of skills and limitations and can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.

How common is autism?

Many different factors make a child more likely to have an ASD. Some factors may include the following:

  • Advanced parent age
  • Family history of having autism
  • Pregnancies spaced less than a year apart
  • Pregnancy and birth complications
Autism is not caused by poor parenting or vaccinations. It occurs in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people than ever before are being diagnosed with ASD — today, about 1 out of every 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with ASD.


What goes into an autism diagnosis?

Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test or blood test to diagnose the disorders. Currently, autism diagnosis includes a developmental screening by a physician that checks if children are learning basic skills for their age, or if there are delays. This screening is recommended at regular well-child doctor visits at nine months, 18 months and 24-30 months.

Because several factors can influence the development of autism, a separate comprehensive evaluation is also used to diagnose ASD. This evaluation may include looking at the child’s behavior and development, interviewing the parents, genetic testing, hearing and vision screening and neurological and other medical testing.

What are the signs of autism?

Here are six signs to look for in early childhood:


At 6 months

Few or no big smiles and limited eye contact.


At 9 months

Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or facial expression.


At 12 months

Little or no response to name, no back-and-forth gestures like reaching or waving.


At 16 months

Little or no words.


At 24 months

Very few or no meaningful two-word phrases.


At any age

Avoids eye contact, delayed language development, prefers to be alone.

Research has shown that diagnosis and high-quality intervention at an early age can improve communication, learning and brain development. So it is important to learn the signs of ASD — and take action early. If you think your child might have ASD, we encourage you to talk to your child’s pediatrician.

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