Early detection is critical in treating autism

It is not recommended to follow a "wait and see" approach when it comes to developmental delays. A developing child's brain is pliable and there is a window of opportunity for improvement at a young age that diminishes as the child gets older. If you have any concerns about your child’s developmental progress, it is crucial to arrange with your physician for a routine developmental screening.

If your baby or toddler shows any of these signs, please ask your pediatrician or family doctor for an immediate evaluation:

  • Prefers to play alone

  • Demonstrates limited pretend play

  • Has poor speech or 'loses' words

  • Avoids eye contact

  • Seems to ignore you

  • Has repetitive and unusual behaviours

  • Does not show you or point to objects; does not invite you in to view their world

For more detailed information regarding early indicators of autism visit www.firstsigns.org. The First Signs website provides a wealth of vital resources, covering a range of issues from monitoring development, to concerns about a child, from the screening and referral process, to sharing concerns. This site also includes a video glossary with side-by-side video clips of children with typical behaviors in comparison with children with autism.

Milestones for Typically Developing Children

Milestones enable parents and physicians to monitor a child's learning, behavior, and development. While each child develops differently, some differences may indicate a slight delay and others may be a cause for greater concern. The following milestones provide a guideline for tracking healthy development. 

Check to see if your child is achieving these typical milestones at each age level:

By 3-4 months

  • Watches faces with interest and follows moving objects

  • Recognises familiar objects and people; smiles at the sound of your voice

  • Begins to develop a social smile

  • Turns head toward sounds

By 7 months

  • Responds to other people's emotions

  • Enjoys face-to-face play; can find partially hidden objects

  • Explores with hands and mouth; struggles for out of reach objects

  • Responds to own name

  • Uses voice to express joy and displeasure; babbles chains of sounds

By 12 Months

  • Enjoys imitating people; tries to imitate sounds

  • Enjoys simple social games, such as “gonna get you!”

  • Explores objects; finds hidden objects

  • Responds to “no;” uses simple gestures, such as pointing to an object

  • Babbles with changes in tone; may use simple, single words (“dada,”“mama,” “Uh-oh!”)

  • Turns to person speaking when his/her name is called.

By 24 Months

  • Imitates behavior of others; is excited about company of other children

  • Understands several words

  • Finds deeply hidden objects; points to named pictures and objects

  • Begins to sort by shapes and colors; begins simple make-believe play

  • Recognises names of familiar people and objects; follows simple instructions

  • Combines two words to communicate with others, such as “more cookie?”

By 3 Years

  • Expresses affection openly and has a wide range of emotions

  • Makes mechanical toys work; plays make-believe

  • Sorts objects by shape and color, matches objects to pictures

  • Follows a 2- or 3-part command; uses simple phrases to communicate with others, such as “go outside, swing?”

  • Uses pronouns (I, you, me) and some plurals (cars, dogs)

By 4 Years

  • Cooperates with other children; is increasingly inventive in fantasy play

  • Names some colors; understands concepts of counting and time

  • Speaks in sentences of five to six words

  • Tells stories; speaks clearly enough for strangers to understand

  • Follows three-part commands; understands "same" and "different"

By 5 Years

  • Wants to be like his/her friends; likes to sing, dance, and act

  • Is able to distinguish fantasy from reality

  • Shows increased independence

  • Can count 10 or more objects and correctly name at least four colors

  • Speaks in sentences of more than five words; tells longer stories

First Signs From the Parents of Children Diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum

 From the parents of a child diagnosed with autism:

  • He turns his toy truck upside down and spins the wheels.

  • She stares at ceiling fans and follow the blades with her eyes.

  • He stands in the middle of the floor and spin really fast, but never gets dizzy.

  • Late talker

  • He would seem to ignore us sometimes, and would have to call him numerous times before we caught his attention.

From a mother of a premature child:

  • Parents of preemies need to know that they babies born very premature are more likely to develop autism.

  • He seemed to have a high tolerance for pain. The traditional spill that caused kids to cry didn't seem to bother him.

  • He was a well-behaved child happy to sit and be cuddled in our arms, while other babies were on the ground putting everything in their mouth and trying to pull things down.

  • He wanted to be held and cuddled all of the time. Little did I know that he was seeking deep pressure (sensory issues).

  • Due to the fact that he was premature, doctors were not worried about the fact that there were some delays in him reaching some of his milestones.

  • The fact that he was affectionate, recognised his parents, and would engage with his parents misled many people.

From the parents of a child diagnosed with autism:

  • He was an extremely easy baby. Happy to amuse himself for hours.

  • Had frequent ear infections, which seem to be a common thread for children on the spectrum.

  • He would sit and play with a toy appropriately but for hours. Not bringing the toy to us to see or seeking out our attention.

  • He would push or pull us to what he wanted and guide our hands to what he wanted. He used us as a tool to get what he wanted instead of just asking for it.

  • Eye contact was not great.

  • No pointing (index finger out) to what he wanted.

  • No joint attention (meaning pointing at things he wanted us to look at or looking in the direction that we were pointing).

  • Nearing 12 months, we began to suspect he was deaf. He would not respond to his name or to people coming and going from the house, but he came running from three rooms down when he heard the Teletubbies song on the TV. We knew then he was not deaf, but for some reason only responded to certain noises and sounds.

  • Very much in a world of his own.

  • Likes to have a long skinny object in each hand.

  • Would lie on the floor and roll the cars back and forth and look at them out of the corner of his eye.

  • Picky eater (very common with children on the spectrum).

  • He was very affectionate, not routine at all and was not bothered by loud noises, unfamiliar people or unfamiliar places.

  • As a mother of a child with autism, my advice would be if you think something is not right, a mother’s instinct is normally right.

  • Don’t allow anyone to put you off. Keep pushing until your child is evaluated. You are your child’s best advocate.