Archived | Autism Speaks / BSRC: Early Signs & Symptoms | Circa 2007 #NotAnAutisticAlly

Early Signs and Symptoms

Preliminary results of studies conducted during the first year of life of children later diagnosed with autism indicate that these children show some behavioral abnormalities which may serve as early markers. They include poor eye contact, impairments in visual tracking to an object, atypical responsiveness to name, less social smiling and delayed expressive and receptive language. Please note that these are early markers and not diagnostic criteria. 

To learn more about early signs and symptoms that parents should look for if they are concerned about their child, please click here.

Red Flags for Autism

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Learn the Signs of Autism

Autism Speaks’ multi-year Ad Council public service advertising campaign stresses the importance of recognizing the early signs of autism and seeking early intervention services.

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Research now suggests that children as young as 1 year old can show signs of autism. The most important thing you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and understand the typical developmental milestones your child should be reaching at different ages. Please look over the following list. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, don’t wait. Speak to your doctor about screening your child for autism. While validated screening for autism starts only as young as 16 months, the best bet for younger children is to have their development screened at every well visit with a highly validated developmental screening tool. If your child does have autism, early intervention may be his or her best hope. 

Watch for the Red Flags of Autism

(The following red flags may indicate a child is at risk for atypical development, and is in need of an immediate evaluation.) 

In clinical terms, there are a few “absolute indicators,” often referred to as “red flags,” that indicate that a child should be evaluated. For a parent, these are the “red flags” that your child should be screened to ensure that he/she is on the right developmental path. If your baby shows any of these signs, please ask your pediatrician or family practitioner for an immediate evaluation:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age

*This information has been provided by First Signs, Inc. ©2001-2005. Reprinted with permission. For more information about recognizing the early signs of developmental and behavioral disorders, please visit or the Centers for Disease Control at

Learn the Signs – Milestones* 

Key Social, Emotional, and Communication Milestones for Your Baby’s Healthy Development (developed by Stanley I. Greenspan, Barry M. Prizant, Amy Wetherby, and First Signs, Inc.)

Milestones enable parents and physicians to monitor a baby’s learning, behavior, and development. While each child develops differently, some differences may indicate a slight delay and others may be a cause for greater concern. The following milestones provide important guidelines for tracking healthy development from four months to three years of age.

Before your child’s next visit to the physician, please take the time to see if your child has met his/her key milestones. These milestones should not be used in place of a screening, but should be used as discussion points between parents and physicians at each well visit. If a child does not have the skills listed—or if there is a loss of any skill at any age—be sure to let your physician know.

Does Your Baby…

At 4 Months:

  • Follow and react to bright colors, movement, and objects?
  • Turn toward sounds?
  • Show interest in watching people’s faces?
  • Smile back when you smile?

At 6 Months:

  • Relate to you with real joy?
  • Smile often while playing with you?
  • Coo or babble when happy?
  • Cry when unhappy?

At 9 Months:

  • Smile and laugh while looking at you?
  • Exchange back-and-forth smiles, loving faces, and other expressions with you?
  • Exchange back-and-forth sounds with you?
  • Exchange back-and-forth gestures with you, such as giving, taking, and reaching?

At 12 Months:

  • Use a few gestures, one after another, to get needs met, like giving, showing, reaching, waving, and pointing?
  • Play peek-a-boo, patty cake, or other social games?
  • Make sounds, like “ma,” “ba,” “na,” “da,” and “ga”?
  • Turn to the person speaking when his/her name is called?

At 15 Months:

  • Exchange with you many back-and-forth smiles, sounds, and gestures in a row?
  • Use pointing or other “showing” gestures to draw attention to something of interest?
  • Use different sounds to get needs met and draw attention to something of interest?
  • Use and understand at least three words, such as “mama,” “dada,” “bottle,” or “bye-bye”?

At 18 Months:

  • Use lots of gestures with words to get needs met, like pointing or taking you by the hand and saying, “want juice”?
  • Use at least four different consonants in babbling or words, such as m, n, p, b, t, and d?
  • Use and understand at least 10 words?
  • Show that he or she knows the names of familiar people or body parts by pointing to or looking at them when they are named?
  • Do simple pretend play, like feeding a doll or stuffed animal, and attracting your attention by looking up at you?

At 24 Months:

  • Do pretend play with you with more than one action, like feeding the doll and then putting the doll to sleep?
  • Use and understand at least 50 words?
  • Use at least two words together (without imitating or repeating) and in a way that makes sense, like “want juice”?
  • Enjoy being next to children of the same age and show interest in playing with them, perhaps giving a toy to another child?
  • Look for familiar objects out of sight when asked?

At 36 Months:

  • Enjoy pretending to play different characters with you or talking “for” dolls or action figures?
  • Enjoy playing with children of the same age, perhaps showing and telling another child about a favorite toy?
  • Use thoughts and actions together in speech and in play in a way that makes sense, like “sleepy, go take nap” and “baby hungry, feed bottle”?
  • Answer “what,” “where,” and “who” questions easily?
  • Talk about interests and feelings about the past and the future?

*This information has been provided by First Signs, Inc. ©2001-2005 First Signs, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. Please do not post, distribute, or create derivative work based upon these hallmark developmental milestones without permission of First Signs, Inc. 

For more information about recognizing the early signs of developmental and behavioral disorders, please visit .

Interactive Learn The Signs Quiz

Screenshot of quiz page: Do you know what to look for? Test your knowledge of the red flags of autism with our interactive quest. [begin]

In Their Own Words

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author exclusively. 

The importance of early diagnosis for autism was brought home in this letter to Autism Speaks, sent to us recently in the wake of a television appearance by our co-founder, Suzanne Wright. The letter has been edited to maintain the privacy of the family.

‘Suzanne Saved Us Many Months’ 

Back in January I watched Suzanne Wright on The View. We were suspecting that our son, at 23 months, had something wrong. Suzanne’s presentation sent me to your web site, and my husband (who is a physician) got our son into the developmental pediatrician within three weeks. 

Our son was diagnosed with autism (we have also gotten a second opinion and both confirmed our worst fears). But we feel blessed in the fact that we have caught this at such an early age. We are now in our third week of ABA therapy and are starting to see some small but positive changes. 

Please pass along to Suzanne Wright a huge thank you. I think Suzanne’s presentation probably saved us many months of heading in the wrong direction – time my son could not afford as I am learning that getting him into therapy early is essential. 

I look forward to supporting this organization in the future and I look forward to trying to education other moms and trying to pass on the information.” 

‘Time Was My Enemy’ 

“I knew something was terribly wrong with my son when he was two. I took him to my pediatrician, detailed my concerns, and was told that nothing was wrong – that I needed to relax, and give him some more time. 

Trusting this advice was the biggest mistake of my life. Time was my enemy. And my son was slipping away. 

Six months later, we got the official diagnosis of autism. By then, our happy boy was gone. He had lost his wonderful personality. Gone was the ability to laugh, speak, and run to his mother for a big hug. 

We will never know how much those six months cost us. 

Nothing is more important than early diagnosis and treatment. But, please, don’t leave this up to your doctor. He or she may have learned almost nothing about autism in medical school. You have to take responsibility for educating yourself about this disorder. 

Know the signs … and don’t let anyone tell you not to worry. Remember … 1 in 166. That one could by your child, just like it was ours.” 

— A mom named Katie

More With The Ad Council


Autistic people have fought the inclusion of ABA in therapy for us since before Autism Speaks, and other non-Autistic-led autism organizations, started lobbying legislation to get it covered by insurances and Medicaid. 

ABA is a myth originally sold to parents that it would keep their Autistic child out of an institution. Today, parents are told that with early intervention therapy their child will either be less Autistic or no longer Autistic by elementary school, and can be mainstreamed in typical education classes. ABA is very expensive to pay out of pocket. Essentially, Autism Speaks has justified the big price tag up front will offset the overall burden on resources for an Autistic’s lifetime. The recommendation for this therapy is 40 hours a week for children and toddlers.

The original study that showed the success rate of ABA to be at 50% has never been replicated. In fact, the study of ABA by United States Department of Defense was denounced as a failure. Not just once, but multiple times. Simply stated: ABA doesn’t workIn study after repeated study: ABA (conversion therapy) doesn’t work. 

What more recent studies do show: Autistics who experienced ABA therapy are at high risk to develop PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions. Historically, the autism organizations promoting ABA as a cure or solution have silenced Autistic advocates’ opposition. ABA is also known as gay conversion therapy.

The ‘cure’ for Autistics not born yet is the prevention of birth. 

The ‘cure’ is a choice to terminate a pregnancy based on ‘autism risk.’ The cure is abortion. This is the same ‘cure’ society has for Down Syndrome. 

This is eugenics 2021. Instead of killing Autistics and disabled children in gas chambers or ‘mercy killings’ like in Aktion T4, it’ll happen at the doctor’s office, quietly, one Autistic baby at a time. Different approaches yes, but still eugenics and the extinction of an entire minority group of people.

Fact: You can’t cure Autistics from being Autistic.

Fact: You can’t recover an Autistic from being Autistic.

Fact: You can groom an Autistic to mask and hide their traits. Somewhat. … however, this comes at the expense of the Autistic child, promotes Autistic Burnout (this should not be confused with typical burnout, Autistic Burnout can kill Autistics), and places the Autistic child at high risk for PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions.

[Note: Autism is NOT a disease, but a neurodevelopmental difference and disability.]

Fact: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.

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