It is, however, clear that early intervention can be of great benefit to children on the autism spectrum. Because early intervention is so important, taking those early warning signs of autism seriously pays off. Of course possible early symptoms of autism seen in infancy don't automatically mean a baby is on the autism spectrum. Many babies with the same symptoms are just displaying the beauty (and sometimes frustration) of individual development, and they'll turn out to be perfectly "normal". If you do see worrying or interesting symptoms, getting them checked out is the thing to do. You'll need to know what to look out for first, of course.
Autism: problem areas
Individuals who are on the autism spectrum are all different, just like everyone else, and their autism will affect them in wildly differing ways from being non-verbal to being able to pass for neurotypical (but not feeling that way). All people with autism have some things in common though. They differ from neurotypical folks in three areas. People on the autism spectrum will struggle with verbal and non-verbal communication to some extent, they'll find it at least a bit tricky to relate to other people and understand social stuff and society, and they will struggle with flexible thinking and behavior.
What to do if you suspect autism
So, what can you do as a parent? First of all, all babies do develop at a different pace, and baby milestones may not appear in the way your parenting books tell you they will. That can be perfectly normal. Not all parents of babies who do have many of the "tell-tale signs of autism" and think they already know the diagnosis will find that testing confirms their suspicions. However, if you do feel strongly that there is something different about your baby, seeking help from a qualified medical professional is certainly the best course of action. Don't wait for the issues you see to go away, don't talk yourself into believing you're wrong about what you see, and don't let a doctor brush your concerns off easily without actually interacting with your baby either. You're the parent. If you're worried, there's a reason.
Early signs of autism
OK, now for some of the more common early signs of autism in infants:
- The baby avoids eye contact
- The baby doesn't smile back at you, or imitate your other facial expressions
- The baby doesn't follow objects you're holding around with their eyes
- Doesn't make sounds to get attention, or reach out to be picked up or hugged, or respond to their name
- Seems to dislike physical contact
Now, there are certainly other signs, but these are the earliest signs of autism in babies. Later on, these babies may reach verbal and social milestones late, and may not really seem aware of what's going on around them. They may have trouble with imaginative play, speak in a monotonous voice, and insist on rigid routines. Remember, though, that autism is a spectrum and not a single condition, and that the clinical picture therefore varies greatly. When you do notice any warning signs in your young baby, it is not too early to talk to your pediatrician about getting referred for further testing. You may also like to read: Science-minded parents more likely to have a child with autism?