What Are the First Signs of Autism?

The first signs of autism may appear in infancy or early childhood, and it's important to recognize them early to start interventions that can help the child reach their full potential.

Ruben Kesherim
January 17, 2024

What Are the First Signs of Autism?

Understanding Autism in Infants

Understanding the early signs and symptoms of autism in infants is crucial for timely intervention and support. In this section, we will explore what autism is, the early signs and symptoms to look out for, and the importance of early detection.

What is Autism?

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way a person perceives and interacts with the world around them. It is characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that it can affect individuals in different ways and to varying degrees. Some individuals with autism may have significant challenges in daily functioning, while others may have milder symptoms but still require support.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Recognizing the early signs and symptoms of autism in infants is crucial for early intervention. While autism is typically diagnosed around the age of 2 or 3, certain signs may be observed in babies as young as 6 to 12 months old. It's important to remember that the presence of these signs does not necessarily indicate autism, but rather serves as a potential indicator for further evaluation.

Early Signs and Symptoms

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Limited or no social smiling
  • Difficulty in responding to name
  • Delayed or absent babbling
  • Lack of gestures
  • Difficulty in understanding and using words
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Fixation on specific objects or topics

Importance of Early Detection

person holding baby's hand

Early detection and intervention play a vital role in supporting children with autism. Research has shown that early intervention can lead to improved outcomes in terms of communication, social skills, and behavior.

By identifying the signs of autism in infancy, parents and caregivers can seek professional evaluation and access the necessary resources and support. Early intervention services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral interventions, can be initiated to address the specific needs of the child and promote their development.

It is essential for parents and caregivers to be vigilant and proactive in monitoring their child's development and seeking professional evaluation if they have concerns about their child's social communication, behavior, or development. Early detection and intervention pave the way for better long-term outcomes and improved quality of life for individuals with autism.

Social and Emotional Signs

Recognizing the early signs of autism in infants is crucial for early intervention and support. Autism can manifest in various ways, including social and emotional difficulties.

In this section, we will explore three common social and emotional signs that may indicate the presence of autism in infants: lack of eye contact, limited or no social smiling, and difficulty in responding to their name.

Lack of Eye Contact

One of the notable social signs of autism in infants is a lack of eye contact. Typically, babies begin to make eye contact with their caregivers from an early age, showing interest and engagement in their surroundings. However, infants with autism may exhibit reduced eye contact or avoid making eye contact altogether.

By not making consistent eye contact, infants with autism may struggle to establish social connections and engage in meaningful interactions. It's important to note that occasional avoidance of eye contact does not necessarily indicate autism. However, if you notice a consistent pattern of limited eye contact, it may be worth discussing with a healthcare professional.

Limited or No Social Smiling

Another social sign to look out for is limited or no social smiling. Infants typically start to smile socially in response to familiar faces or engaging interactions by around 2 to 3 months of age. However, infants with autism may show a delay or absence of social smiling.

Social smiling is an important milestone in social communication and bonding. If your infant consistently fails to respond with smiles during interactions, it may be an indication of autism. It's important to remember that individual differences exist, and some infants may develop social smiling at their own pace. However, consulting a healthcare professional can help determine if further evaluation is necessary.

Difficulty in Responding to Name

Difficulty in responding to their name is another social sign that may raise concerns about autism in infants. Typically, by around 8 to 12 months of age, infants respond to their name being called by turning their head or making eye contact. However, infants with autism may not consistently respond when their name is called, or they may show delayed or inconsistent responses.

Failure to respond to their name can impact communication and social interactions. If you notice that your infant consistently does not respond to their name, it may be important to seek professional evaluation to determine if further assessment is needed.

Recognizing these social and emotional signs in infants can be a first step toward early identification of autism. It's important to remember that each child develops at their own pace, and occasional instances of these behaviors may not necessarily indicate autism.

However, if you notice a consistent pattern of these signs, discussing your concerns with a healthcare professional can provide guidance and support for your child's development.

Communication Signs

Communication is an essential aspect of a child's development, and certain signs can indicate the presence of autism in infants. It's important for parents to be aware of these signs and seek professional evaluation if they observe them in their child.

In this section, we will explore three communication signs that may be indicative of autism in infants: delayed or absent babbling, lack of gestures, and difficulty in understanding and using words.

Delayed or Absent Babbling

Babbling is a crucial milestone in language development, where infants produce repetitive sounds that eventually lead to the formation of words. In some cases, infants who later receive an autism diagnosis may exhibit delayed or absent babbling. This means they may not engage in the typical babbling behaviors expected for their age.

Age Typical Babbling Milestones
6-8 months Reduplicated babbling (e.g., "bababa")
9-10 months Variegated babbling (e.g., "bagido")
12 months Babbling with inflection and rhythm

If your child is not reaching these babbling milestones or shows a significant delay in babbling, it may be worth discussing your concerns with a healthcare professional.

Lack of Gestures

Gestures play a fundamental role in communication and social interaction. Infants typically start using gestures, such as pointing or waving, to express their needs and desires. However, infants who later develop autism may exhibit a lack of gestures or use them less frequently than expected.

Here are some common gestures that infants typically develop:

Age Gestures
9-12 months Pointing, waving, reaching
12-14 months Shaking head for "no," nodding for "yes"
12-18 months Blowing kisses, clapping hands

If your child is not using gestures or shows a limited repertoire of gestures, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide further guidance and evaluation.

Difficulty in Understanding and Using Words

Another communication sign to be aware of is difficulty in understanding and using words. Infants who later receive an autism diagnosis may struggle with language comprehension and expression. They may have difficulty understanding simple instructions or responding to their name.

As infants develop, they typically start using single words and gradually combine them to form simple sentences. However, children with autism may exhibit delays or difficulties in reaching these language milestones.

Age Language Milestones
12-15 months First words (e.g., "mama," "dada")
18-24 months Vocabulary growth (20-50 words)
24-36 months Two to three-word phrases

If your child is not demonstrating progress in language development or exhibits significant delays in reaching these milestones, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation.

Being aware of these communication signs can help parents identify potential early indicators of autism in infants. Remember, each child develops at their own pace, so it's essential to consider other factors and consult with a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and guidance.

Behavioral Signs

Recognizing the behavioral signs of autism in infants is crucial for early detection and intervention. While every child is unique and may exhibit different behaviors, there are certain repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivities, and fixations that can be indicative of autism.

Repetitive Behaviors

Repetitive behaviors are a common characteristic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These behaviors may include repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, body rocking, or spinning in circles. Infants with autism may also engage in repetitive play, such as repeatedly lining up toys or organizing objects in specific patterns.

To better understand the repetitive behaviors associated with autism, here are some examples:

Repetitive Behaviors

  • Hand flapping
  • Body rocking
  • Spinning objects
  • Repeatedly lining up toys

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are another behavioral sign that can be observed in infants with autism. These sensitivities can manifest in various ways, such as heightened sensitivity to certain sounds, textures, smells, or lights. Infants with autism may become upset or overwhelmed in response to sensory stimuli that others might find tolerable.

Here are some examples of sensory sensitivities commonly seen in infants with autism:

Sensory Sensitivities

  • Sensitivity to loud noises
  • Discomfort with certain textures
  • Strong aversion to certain smells
  • Overwhelmed by bright lights

Fixation on Specific Objects or Topics

Infants with autism may develop intense fixations or interests in specific objects or topics. They may become preoccupied with a particular toy, repeatedly playing with it in a focused and repetitive manner. Some infants with autism may also exhibit an intense fascination with specific topics, such as numbers, letters, or transportation.

Here are a few examples of fixations commonly observed in infants with autism:

Fixation on Specific Objects or Topics

  • Obsession with spinning objects
  • Intense interest in a specific toy
  • Fascination with letters or numbers
  • Preoccupation with vehicles

Recognizing these behavioral signs in infants is important, as it can prompt parents to seek professional evaluation and early intervention services. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve outcomes for children with autism. If you notice any of these behavioral signs in your infant, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or developmental specialist for further evaluation and guidance.

Red Flags for Autism

Recognizing the red flags or warning signs of autism in infants is crucial for early intervention and support. While every child develops at their own pace, it's important for parents to be aware of certain indicators that may suggest the presence of autism. Here are some red flags to look out for:

When to Seek Professional Evaluation

If you observe any of the following signs in your infant, it is recommended to seek a professional evaluation for a thorough assessment:

Red Flags for Autism

  • Lack of social smiling by 6 months
  • No babbling or minimal vocalizations by 9 months
  • Absence of meaningful gestures by 12 months
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No spontaneous two-word phrases by 24 months
  • Any loss of previously acquired skills at any age

It's important to note that the presence of these red flags does not necessarily mean a definitive diagnosis of autism. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in autism to ensure appropriate evaluation and support.

Importance of Developmental Screening

Developmental screening is a valuable tool in identifying potential developmental delays and disorders, including autism, in infants. These screenings involve a series of standardized questions and observations to assess a child's development in different areas.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants undergo regular developmental screenings at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months of age. Additionally, if parents or healthcare providers have concerns about a child's development at any age, a screening should be conducted promptly.

Early detection through developmental screenings can lead to early intervention services, which are crucial for optimizing a child's development and providing the necessary support.

Resources for Support and Guidance

Receiving a diagnosis of autism can be overwhelming for parents. However, there are numerous resources available to provide support, guidance, and information. These resources can help parents navigate their journey and access the services their child may need. Some valuable resources include:

  • Autism support organizations, such as Autism Speaks and the Autism Society, which provide information, resources, and community support.
  • Local support groups or parent networks, where parents can connect with others who have similar experiences and access valuable advice.
  • Early intervention programs and services, which offer specialized therapies and interventions for infants and young children with autism.
  • Healthcare professionals, such as pediatricians, developmental pediatricians, and autism specialists, who can provide guidance and referrals to appropriate services.

Remember, as a parent, you are not alone in this journey. Utilizing the available resources can help you navigate the path ahead and provide the best possible support for your child.


Can autism be diagnosed in infants?

Yes, autism can be diagnosed in infants as young as 6 months old. However, it's important to note that a definitive diagnosis may not be possible until later in childhood.

Are all children with delayed speech development autistic?

No, delayed speech development is not always a sign of autism. However, it can be an early indicator and should be evaluated by a pediatrician or specialist.

What are some common misconceptions about autism?

One common misconception is that all individuals with autism have extraordinary abilities or savant skills. While some individuals with autism may have exceptional talents, this is not true for everyone. Another misconception is that vaccines cause autism, which has been thoroughly debunked by scientific research.

Can interventions really make a difference for children with autism?

Yes, early interventions can make a significant difference in the lives of children with autism. With the right support and therapies, many children with autism can improve their communication skills, social interaction, and behavior. It's important to seek out interventions as soon as possible to give your child the best chance at success.


In conclusion, recognizing the signs of autism is crucial for early intervention and the best outcome for a child with autism. If you suspect your child may have autism, don't hesitate to talk to your pediatrician and seek help. With the right support, children with autism can lead happy and fulfilling lives.


Similar Articles