Autism Signs to Watch For in Kids

If you're a parent, you've probably heard that more and more kids are being diagnosed with autism. It's true. In fact, every 1 in 68 children in America is now considered to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. But although signs can be detected as early as age 2, most kids aren't diagnosed until after the age of 4.

Experts are still struggling to understand exactly what causes autism, or what's now called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Theories range from environmental toxins to certain experiences during pregnancy to a multitude of causes still not known. But autism experts do agree on one thing: the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better.


"Early detection and intervention helps reduce symptoms and increase a child's ability to develop new skills," explains Jeanette Sawyer Cohen, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychology in pediatrics at New York Presbyterian Hospital and co-founder of Everyday Parenting Psychology in Westchester County, NY.

ASD can be tough to diagnose since symptoms vary widely from one child to the next, "and even within the same child over time," Cohen says.

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Below is a list of common signs of ASD parents can look for, but know this is not a diagnosis tool. If you recognize more than one behavior in your own child, "it's critical that he or she receives a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation by either a doctoral-level psychologist or developmental pediatrician," says Cohen. Only an expert can actually make an autism diagnosis. An assessment will entail a doctor observing and interacting with your child, as well as interviewing you and and any other caregivers. "The information they gather will help them develop a treatment plan that's tailored to your child's needs," Cohen notes.

A child with ASD might:

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months
  • Not point at objects to show interest (like pointing at an airplane) by 14 months
  • Not play "pretend" games by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to how things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Of course, it may feel overwhelming to even consider that your child may be autistic, but remember, if he is, says Cohen, "he needs you now more than ever."

If you have a child on the autism spectrum, what advice can you share with other parents?

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