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Young boy swinging by himself on playground

Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Dr. Daniel Robinson, Coastal Pediatrics

Autism is a spectrum of closely related disorders that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) appears in infancy and early childhood and the effects can range from special gifts to severe challenges. The signs and symptoms of ASD vary greatly, as do its effects.

Catching autism early – before your child reaches 18 months – can make a huge difference. Early intervention can reduce the disorder’s effects and help a child learn, grow, and thrive.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children be screened for ASD at 18 months and 24 months of age during regular well-child visits.

Monitor your child’s development and look for these early warning signs of autism. If you have any concerns, share them with your pediatrician.


  • Slow to smile or laugh.
  • Resists cuddling or holding.
  • Doesn’t point to or show interest in objects.
  • Avoids eye contact.
  • Fails to respond to their name by 12 months. 

Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • Doesn’t engage in pretend play by 18 months.
  • Prefers to play alone.
  • Doesn’t seem to understand other people's feelings.
  • Doesn’t speak or speaks with an abnormal rhythm or tone.
  • Gives unrelated answers to questions.
  • Appears to ignore you when you make a request.
  • Repeats certain words or phrases over and over.
  • Develops specific routines or rituals.
  • Throws temper tantrums in response to minor changes in routine.
  • Intentionally and repeatedly inflicts harm on themself.
  • Becomes obsessively interested in something.
  • Moves spastically, flaps hands, rocks, or spins.
  • Reacts to sounds, smells, and touch in an unusual way.
  • Has unusual food preferences.

If your child is displaying several of the behaviors listed above, talk to your CHKD pediatrician and ask about developmental screening. Don’t wait. Early intervention has been shown to improve outcomes for children with autism.

Helpful links from the CDC:

Milestone Checklist (PDF)
Milestone Tracker App

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.