5 Early Signs of Autism

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Mary Elizabeth Dallas on April 29, 2021
  • Autistic boy building with blocks
    The Hallmark Signs of Autism
    Most children with autism develop signs before age two, but some kids develop symptoms even earlier. Autism symptoms range from mild to very severe—it affects everyone differently. Autism affects a child’s social and emotional skills and their ability to communicate. Early treatment at the first signs of autism often dramatically improves a child's long-term outlook. Learning about the early warning signs can help make sure children get the help they need.
  • Offended boy
    1. No smiles, emotion or eye contact
    Sights and sounds catch the attention of infants. Babies often smile and gaze into their parents’ eyes. Toddlers communicate by pointing to objects and showing things to their caregivers. They respond to others with laughter and other emotions. However, these social interactions may be hard for children with autism. They may show little or no emotion. They often avoid eye contact. They don't respond to the sounds around them.
  • Child playing at a library
    2. Not copying sounds or gestures
    Babies and toddlers learn to copy gestures, like waving hello. They begin to clap. They start to show interest in games like peekaboo. Children with autism may have little interest in these activities. Other people don't interest them. They may not babble or copy sounds. Those with autism have trouble understanding gestures, body language, and tone of voice. They may not try to communicate by pointing at objects or showing things to others.
  • Thoughtful child boy or kid on playground
    3. Lack of empathy
    Facial expressions help people figure out what others are thinking. That's not true for people with autism. Toddlers with autism may not be able to empathize—understand or be sensitive to other's feelings. Young children with autism may show little interest in making friends. They may talk like a robot or speak in a singsong voice. Toddlers with autism may have little interest in playing pretend.
  • Speech Therapist Interacting with child
    4. Delayed or lost speech
    By the age of two, children can usually speak in two-word phrases. But, children with autism may not say anything early on. Sometimes they even lose speech skills they already developed. Babies who once babbled may stop and become silent. Some children with autism repeat what they hear—even if they don’t understand what they are saying. Other children with autism may not respond to their names. Or, they mix up pronouns and refer to themselves as “you” instead of “I.”
  • Portrait of 7 years old boy
    5. Unusual reactions
    Autism can cause children to have trouble coping with how things sound, smell, look, feel or taste. When they are in a new environment, they may react in an unusual way to sounds or other stimulation. In other cases, children with autism may not seem to notice loud noises. They may also react differently to danger. Some may show no signs of fear. Others may be afraid of harmless objects.
Watch for These 5 Early Signs of Autism

About The Author

  1. Learn the Signs of Autism. Autism Speaks. https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/learn-signs
  2. Early Signs of Autism. Autism Science Foundation. http://www.autismsciencefoundation.org/autism-early-signs
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorders: Signs & Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html
  4. A Parent’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/a-parents-guide-to-autism-spectrum-disorder/index.shtml
  5. Autism Spectrum Disorder. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/developmental-disabilities/Pages/Aut...
  6. Treatment Options. Autism Science Foundation. http://www.autismsciencefoundation.org/what-is-autism/autism-diagnosis/treatment-options
  7. Facts about ASD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html
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Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 29
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.