Recognizing Early Symptoms of Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Mother and Small Child
Two reports released recently by the AAP are designed to help the pediatric community recognize symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) earlier so that children who suffer from these developmental challenges can start treatment at younger ages.

Language delays often prompt parents to raise concerns to their child’s pediatrician – usually at around 18 months of age. However, babies with ASD often show subtle early signs that communication difficulties may lay ahead. These include the following:

  • not turning when the parents say the baby’s name
  • not turning to look when the parent points and says, “Look at the…”
  • not pointing to show parents an interesting object or event
  • lack of back-and-forth babbling
  • smiling late
  • failure to make eye contact with people.

Most children form attachments with a stuffed animal, special pillow or blanket. Children with ASD may prefer hard items (ballpoint pens, flashlight, keys, action figures, etc.). They may insist on holding the object at all times.

Symptoms that are absolute indications for immediate evaluation include no babbling or pointing or other gesture by 12 months; no single words by 16 months; no two-word spontaneous phrases by 24 months; and loss of language or social skills at any age.

There is no cure for ASD, but early treatment programs can improve children’s long-term prognosis. The AAP report recommends that intensive interventional treatments begin as soon as an ASD is strongly suspected. Treatments may include any combination of behavior management strategies, medications and help with communication.