There is an increase in reported cases of autism in society. As we understand more about the condition we are able to diagnose more effectively, however diagnosing autism at an early age can be a complex process, especially in babies. Dr Dimitrios Paschos, Consultant Psychiatrist at award-winning brain clinic Re:Cognition Health explains, ‘It’s imperative to obtain an early diagnosis of autism, as effective treatment may have the ability to change the course of the condition, having a more successful outcome for the baby. Due to babies’ brains being very malleable, quick acquisition of cognitive, motor and social skills is enabled.’
There are many early signs of autism, most notably the absence of meeting developmental milestones. However, for first time parents who have no benchmarks to compare their baby to, the deficits in developments may be very subtle and hard to identify.
Autism in babies – key signs to spot
Dr Dimitrios Paschos shares some of the key early signs, to help parents identify symptoms at the earliest possible stage:
- Lack of smiling: By the age of six months, or thereafter, babies should be smiling and giving warm, joyful expressions. Does your baby smile when seeing you, does he return your smile or show joy when seeing you enter the room? If not, this may be an early indication and certainly worth monitoring and discussing with your healthcare professional. Lack of showing emotion is a common symptom amongst autistic children and one of the very early red flags.
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions. By the age of 9 months, babies should start to imitate sounds, expressions and movements. They should be enjoying baby games, such as peekaboo and hiding / revealing objects.
- No babbling by 12 months – cooing and baby babbling should be frequent in babies by their first birthday. Absence of this baby talk is a red flag and requires close monitoring. Absence or slow development of speech is a key trait amongst autistic children.
- Lack of response to sounds by 12 months. By this age, babies should be reacting to sounds, responding to their name being called, reacting to familiar voices and being inquisitive as to where noises are coming from. If hearing appears to be normal in other situations, lack of responding to sounds may be a possible early indicator of autism. Sometimes, autistic babies and toddlers can be absorbed in their own world and don’t engage with the present environment.
- No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months. These forms of gesturing are key communication tools to express interest or grab attention which are typically reached by 10 months.
- Lack of speech – Not using single words by 16 months or using meaningful, two-word phrases by 24 months (not including imitating or repeating words) may be an early indicator.
- Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age – the decline of verbal and social skills should be an ongoing development in babies. Showing a lack of interest in people, becoming withdrawn or becoming more interested in objects than people are key signs to closely monitor.
Other signs of autism in babies may include:
- Baby doesn’t like be touched or cuddled
- Showing no interest in people, more interested on objects
- Lack of eye contact – baby seems to be looking through you rather than at you
- Baby doesn’t walk or walks on his toes
Any concerns should be discussed with a medical professional specialising in paediatric cognitive development.
Dr Dimitrios Paschos, Consultant Psychiatrist, Re:Cognition Health