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Recognizing the signs of autism early in a child’s life can make a huge difference in their well-being during the early stages of childhood. Recent research confirms that appropriate screening can determine whether a child is at risk for autism as young as one year, and while every child develops differently, early autism treatment frequently improves outcomes, and often does so dramatically. One of the most important things you can do, as a parent, is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching, and perhaps isn’t.

The following "red flags" may indicate an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in your child, so if they show any of the following “symptoms,” don’t hesitate in asking your pediatrician for a more thorough evaluation of your child:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months of age
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by 9 months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling, or social skills at any point during this stage of development

By understanding the importance of these milestones, and the general timeline in which they should be occurring, you can develop a pretty good idea one way or the other if your young child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that not one of these “red flags” in isolation, or even two or three of them, is a confirmation of autism in your child, and that you should still always visit a pediatrician or family doctor for further testing if you suspect your child is showing early signs of autism.

There are also other options for you to use before meeting with a doctor. The M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) can help you determine if a professional should evaluate your child. This simple online autism screen takes only a few minutes.

You can also use the Video Glossary from the Autism Speaks Foundation’s website for more information. It contains over 100 video clips illustrating typical and delayed development. Whether you are a parent, caregiver, relative, or friend, it can help you learn the subtle differences and spot the early red flags for ASD.

Though autism spectrum disorders range from mildly to profoundly disabling, understanding the early signs of autism is an important turning point in a long journey that you and your family will make together.

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