Diagnosing Autism in Infants

The earliest signs of autism are the absence of normal behaviors.  You can catch warning signs early if you know what to look for.These are some red flags to watch out for:

  • 2 to 3 months:  your baby isn’t making frequent eye contact
  • 3 months: your baby isn’t smiling at you
  • 6 months: your baby doesn’t laugh
  • 8 months: the baby isn't following your gaze when you look away or cry when you leave, or hasn't begun to babble.
  • 12 to 14 months: an important milestone, if any of the following behaviors are persistently absent, it warrants a visit to the pediatrician, including:, your baby isn't isn't consistently turning to you when you call his name or hasn't begun to wave bye-bye. At this point he should also be making hand gestures like pointing and waving, your baby hasn't said a single word, and by 14 months he isn't pointing to show interest.

See the Importance of Early Develomental Screening video to find out when and how to screen your baby for risk - and what to do if you suspect a problem. 

Don't fret if you occasionally see one or two of these—it could be another type of language, learning, or behavior problem, or even nothing at all.

There are several things you can, and should do, on an ongoing basis to watch for autism in your infant. First, continuously monitor your infant’s development and take action if you’re concerned. Every child develops at a different pace—so you don’t need to panic if your child is a little late to talk or walk. When it comes to healthy development, there’s a wide range of “normal.” But if your infant is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or you suspect a problem, share your concerns with your child’s doctor immediately.

Second, don’t accept a wait-and-see approach. Many concerned parents are told, “Don’t worry” or “Wait and see.” But waiting is the worst thing you can do. You risk losing valuable time at an age where your child has the best chance for improvement.

And finally, trust your instincts. Ideally, your child’s doctor will take your concerns seriously and perform a thorough evaluation for autism or other developmental delays. But sometimes, even well-meaning doctors miss red flags or underestimate problems. Listen to your gut if it’s telling you something is wrong and be persistent. Schedule a follow-up appointment with the doctor, seek a second opinion, or ask for a referral to a child development specialist.

Early diagnosis and intervention are critical for children with autism. The earlier a diagnosis can be made, the earlier intervention methods, such as Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, can be implemented. If you suspect, don’t wait! Have your infant evaluated as soon possible during this critical developmental period. 

You should use independent judgment and request references when considering any resource associated with diagnosis or treatment of autism or its associated medical conditions. The information in this Autism Advisor tool kit is solely for educational purposes, not medical advice.