What Are the Early Signs of Autism?

Get to Know the Early Signs of Autism

According to the CDC, as many as 1 out of every 59 children may have autism spectrum disorder. So if you're a parent of a young child and worried about the early signs of autism, you have a right to be concerned. It's a good idea to keep a close eye on your child's development because even very young children can be diagnosed. And research shows that the earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the better the prognosis for good outcomes.

Little boy awake in his bed
Mariló Valle. FOTOGRAFÍA/Moment/Getty Images

What should you be looking for? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these are some of the earliest red flags for autism:

Possible Indicators of Autism Spectrum Disorders

  1. Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by 1 year of age
  2. Does not speak one word by 16 months
  3. Does not combine two words by 2 years
  4. Does not respond to name
  5. Loses language or social skills
  6. Poor eye contact
  7. Doesn't seem to know how to play with toys or excessively lines up toys or other objects
  8. Is attached to one particular toy or object
  9. Doesn't smile or interact joyfully
  10. At times seems to be hearing impaired

It's important to remember that there are many possible explanations for most of the symptoms listed above. A child's attachment to a particular toy or difficulty with language skills is not, in itself, a sign of autism.

It's also important to remember that a child who does have excellent language skills may still be diagnosable on the autism spectrum. In fact, some children who are diagnosed with autism have extraordinary language and reading skills.

Other Possible Early Signs of Autism

Today, autism is generally diagnosed through a process of interviews with parents and observation of children. Some researchers, however, have found correlations between certain physical issues and autism.

If You See Signs that Suggest Autism

If You're Ready to Seek an Evaluation for Your Child

If you think you see early signs of autism, but your pediatrician doesn't agree, who's right? It may be that your pediatrician is incorrect.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control. Data and statistics on autism spectrum disorder.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Autism spectrum disorder.

  3. Sacco R, Gabriele S, Persico AM. Head circumference and brain size in autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 234(2):239-51. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2015.08.016

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.