A very general sign of autism is that individuals are often unresponsive and withdrawn or "in their own world." Some characteristics of autism are easily recognized in older kids who frequently cover their ears or flap their hands.But can you recognize autism in an infant? Early signs of autism are less evident in older children or adults; however there are subtle ways to tell if an infant is developing normally.
Autism is usually diagnosed around age two, though it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Generally parents notice loss of skills between 15 to 18 months of age. Lack of normal development and poor eye contact are noticed first and obsessive or self-stimulatory behavior comes later. Regression, which is a loss of previously learned skills, is a serious warning sign of autism. When a child who frequently smiled and waved and loved to play peekaboo ceases to do those things, it's a major issue that should be addressed immediately.
Here are some early warning signs by age:
- 6 months- No smiles or expressions of happiness
- 9 months- No communication through sounds, facial expressions or smiles
- 12 months- Does not respond to name, no babbling or gestures (pointing, reaching, waving or showing)
- 16 months- No verbalizations (does not speak)
- 24 months- No spontaneous two word phrases
Often infants with autism do not make eye contact while feeding and do not enjoy being cuddled. Recent studies have shown that 90% of 3-year-olds with autism experiences "head lag" at six months of age. This can be tested by doing a "pull to sit" exercise that involves an infant lying flat on the floor. You grab their arms and gently pull them until the infant is in a sitting position. If the neck has difficulty supporting the head, it means they have head lag, which is associated with social and communication delays.
If you have a child who is diagnosed with autism, early intervention is highly recommended to help reverse the symptoms of autism. There are a few different types of therapy available for children with autism, though applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based treatment that is proven to be successful in treating autism.