Missed Milestones: Recognizing The Early Signs of Autism
Autism is a childhood neurological disorder which causes children to have challenges in major areas such as communication, social interaction, learning, and physical development. In most cases, children are diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 24 months, when developmental delays become obvious.
Today, doctors know more about what to look for in this disorder, so children are increasingly diagnosed as early as 12 months of age. This early diagnosis can be a huge game changer for kids and their parents.
Why is Early Screening Important?
Multiple studies, such as the one recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics, have shown that if autism is diagnosed early and the child is able to begin intensive treatment, there can be significant improvements in the child’s symptoms. Autism Speaks and other advocacy groups have begun a campaign to educate parents on what to look for in regards to delayed or missed milestones that might indicate that there is a problem.
If you notice the following missed milestones in your child, share your concerns with your child’s doctor right away. These milestones include important physical, behavioral, and speech skills that autism can significantly delay.
Age 2 Months
Signs and symptoms can start early. By two months of age, parents should be concerned if their baby:
- Does not follow moving objects with his/her eyes
- Does not respond to noises or other environmental stimuli
- Cannot hold up his/her head
- Does not smile or form other facial expressions
- Does not mouth objects
Age 4 Months
Warning signs of a delay around age four months include a baby who:
- Still does not smile or form other happy expressions
- Still does not follow moving objects visually
- Cannot hold head steady
- Does not coo or make other pre-speech sounds
- Does not draw objects into the mouth
- Does not push with legs when feet are placed on a flat surface
Age 6 Months
At age 6 months, parents should talk to their doctor if their baby:
- Still does not respond to environmental stimuli like voices and other sounds
- Does not show signs of bonding or affection with caregivers
- Does not squeal, laugh, or make “happy” sounds
- Has posture that is either too stiff or too limp
Age 9 Months
Autism “red flags” at nine months of age include a baby that:
- Shows no response when their own name is spoken, or to a familiar voice
- Does not make pre-speech sounds or babble
- Does not interact through simple games like peek-a-boo or patty-cake
- Does not transfer objects from one hand to another
- Cannot sit up without support
- Cannot bear weight with legs
Age 12 Months
By 12 months of age, parents should be concerned if their baby:
- Does not make simple gestures like waving good-bye
- Does not search for object when they see you hide them
- Is not yet crawling
- Cannot stand without support
General Points to Consider
The milestones above are pretty specific – but some warning signs of autism are more subtle and easier to miss. In general, if your child seems to have difficulty interacting with you and other members of the family, if they seem aggravated by being touched or less aware of their environment than they should be, these more general signs can also signal a problem.
Another significant sign to look for is a loss or reversal of skills. For instance, if your child has been waving good-bye to you or making other gestures like shaking their head and suddenly stops or seems to lose the ability to do this, report your observations to your doctor right away. This loss of skill is one of the hallmarks of autistic disorders.
It is also important not to panic! Just because your child is having developmental delays does not mean they are necessarily autistic! However, there could be other serious reasons for these problems. For instance, a lack of responsiveness to the environmental or delays in speech might signal problems with hearing. In this case, it is also important to seek medical help right away to avoid further delays in development.
Autism is a scary term for most parents – and that is understandable. But denial will not solve this problem. So if you suspect that there are issues with your baby’s milestones, don’t put the problem off or try to pretend that there is nothing wrong. The sooner your baby can be evaluated, the sooner you and your doctor can come up with a plan of action. Again, research like the recent Journal of Pediatrics study is leading more pediatricians to believe that diagnosing this disorder by 12 months and beginning intensive treatment can in some cases help not only improve signs and symptoms but actually reverse the disorder.
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