Signs of Autism in Your Infant -- Yes, It Starts Now!

Cynthia Dermody

baby building with blocks
Flickr photo by ella_novak
Many parents think of autism as a toddler thing. Not so. As the parents of a new baby, you should care that it's Autism Awareness Month and be looking for signs of autism from as early as 6 months old. New research shows that many parents fail to pick up the red flags of autism until well into their child's second year of life.

"Parents should be monitoring their child's key developmental milestones and watch for early signs of delay," says Nancy Wiseman, founder and president of First Signs and one of the most authoritative experts on autism on the planet.

"If you intervene early enough, you may be able to prevent a developmental delay from progressing into a full-blown disorder and get your child back on a healthy developmental path," Wiseman says. "Recovery is a long and uncertain road, but it is possible. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome will be."

What exactly is autism? Sometimes referred to as ASD or autism spectrum disorder, the condition represents a wide range of a certain set of features that affect the way the behaves and acts physically and socially.

But more about that in a later post, let's take this one step at a time, like whether your baby is showing early signs.

From Wiseman and First Signs, here are the steps you should follow:

1. Pay attention to milestones

With young babies, what your child isn't doing is just as important as what he is in terms of diagnosing autism. Some "classic" autistic behaviors may not be obvious till closer to age one or into the toddler years.

For instance, at 4 months old, your baby should follow and react to bright colors, movements and objects, turn toward sounds, and smile back at your smiles.

Click the link for a complete list of Hallmark Developmental Milestones your baby should follow from 4 to 36 months.

2. Use a validated screening tool as early as 4 months

Pediatricians should be screening your baby at well visits, but many do not, Wiseman says, so parents should request it. But parents should not rely solely on their doctors, wither. One free, downloadable test for parents that Wiseman recommends:

CSBS DP Infant Toddler Checklist, for children 6-24 months.

3. Watch for red flags

Two or more call for a professional evaluation. Red flags for autism in young babies include not using gestures or facial expressions to draw attention; becoming upset or frustrated but not using eye gaze or gestures to convey his emotions; no big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter; more interest in objects and toys than interaction with people; manipulating parts of the object repetitively (spinning a wheel) rather than using the whole object in pretend play.

Click the link for a complete list of Red Flags of Autism.

4. Compare your baby's behaviors to those of other children

The Autism Spectrum Disorder Video Glossary can help you spot the early red flags by viewing side-by-side video clips of children with typical behaviors in comparison with children with autism.

"But understand there are many presenting features associated with ASD that are depicted, and most children do not show all of them all the time," Wiseman says. "Instead, many children have some of the features some of the time. Also, these features may not indicate a problem, but in combination, they may indicate a need for evaluation."

5. Read up

Besides First Signs, here are the best resources on autism on the Web:

Autism Speaks  

Defeat Autism Now!  

Wrightslaw (the leading website about special education law and advocacy, which includes the Wrightslaw Yellow Pages for Kids

The National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities

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