Trust Your Instincts: Warning Signs of Autism in Your Baby or Toddler

As a psychologist in Arizona, I often see children for an initial autism evaluation starting around 4-10 years of age. There is a great deal of research indicating that the earlier we can accurately diagnose autism, the better their outcome later in life.

If I can tell parents anything, I will tell you:


Over and over again, I hear parents saying, “I knew something just wasn’t right, but everyone kept saying that my child was just young, boys develop later, or they will grow out of it.”

Parents, you know your child better than anyone else. You see the best of them and the worst of them. Children sometimes act very differently in a pediatrician office for a brief 15-minute appointment than they do at home or at the park with their peers. If you have concerns, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician and tell him/her about all the behaviors or limitations you are seeing in child’s communication, interactions with peers or adults, or repetitive behaviors. Below is a list of warning signs to look out for in your baby or toddler:

Warning signs of autism at 6 months:

  • No social smiling
  • Limited facial expressions, smiling, or giggling

Warning signs of autism at 9 months:

  • No sharing of sounds
  • Limited facial expressions, smiling, or giggling
  • Limited eye contact

Warning signs of autism at 9 months:

  • No babbling
  • No use of gestures to communicate, such as pointing, reaching, waving
  • No response to name when called

Warning signs of autism by 18 months:

  • No words
  • Limited gestures to communicate
  • Limited facial expressions
  • Not responding to name when called

Warning signs of autism by 24 months:

  • No meaningful two-word phrases
  • Loss of previously acquired language or socialization

General warning signs of autism in toddlers and children:

  • Limited eye contact
  • Limited make-believe or creative play
  • Not showing objects or giving objects
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Attempts to engage with peers in odd ways (hugging, kissing, chasing, etc.)
  • Difficulty understanding how others think and feel
  • Delayed language development
  • Advanced/overly formal vocabulary or odd use of words and phrases
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Intense and focused interests in children
  • Repetitive or unusual body movements (e.g., hand flapping, tensing hands or fingers)
  • Repetitive play with toys (e.g., lining objects up repeatedly, examining parts of a toy for long periods or from certain angles)
  • Unusual sensory interests (licking, sniffing, examining objects from the corner of the eye) in older children
  • Rigid adherence to specific routines or difficulty making transitions throughout the day
  • Aversive reactions to sounds, smell, taste, texture, lights, etc.

Remember that any one of the behaviors listed above is not necessarily cause for concern. Autism is diagnosed in children who show a combination of communication and social interaction delays as well as repetitive behaviors or restricted interests. If you have concerns about possible autism characteristics in your child, please contact me, and we can discuss if an evaluation is needed.

An Awesome App to Help Your Child (And You) Cope with Anxiety!

Most of my time is spent completing evaluations, which I love and am so passionate about. But I still reserve a little time in my schedule for therapy because it is so rewarding seeing children and families make progress. In therapy, I primarily work with children to help them overcome their fears and worries. I recently came across an app that I love called “MindShift.”Write here...