Autism Symptoms in Babies and Toddlers

Autism spectrum disorder has a very different definition from the understandings of people. This disorder, which can be defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder, is innate. Therefore, autism symptoms may be observed in babies too. It may take a certain period of time in order to determine only the symptoms that are necessary for the diagnosis. 

Autism symptoms become more pronounced after a certain age. Some symptoms appear more prominent in children after 2 or 3 years of age. On the other hand, it can be noticed earlier. The earlier the diagnosis of autism, and the sooner the education is started, the sooner a quality life for the child on the spectrum is initiated. Therefore, it is important to know the symptoms of autism in babies.

Although autism spectrum disorder is difficult to diagnose before 24 months, symptoms usually begin to manifest between 12 and 18 months. If symptoms of autism are detected at the age of 18 months, intensive therapy to reverse symptoms may be helpful. Also, some signs and symptoms of autism can be recognized at the age of 6 to 12 months, depending on the symptoms and severity.

The earliest signs of autism spectrum disorder involve the absence of normal behaviors, which does not mean the presence of abnormal ones. So they can be difficult to distinguish. In some cases, the earliest symptoms are even misinterpreted, since the baby may seem quiet, independent, and undemanding. However, parents can catch even the early warning signs early if they know what to look for.



Babies with autism can be very restless, constantly crying and very difficult to calm, having sleep problems, or they can be very calm, quiet, well-behaved babies that will please their families. They do not have common attention. They do not try to show the objects of interest to adults. The response of those babies to stimuli is very different. They may have variable sensitivity to pain. There are also problems with eating. Their imitation skills are not developed.

There was a healthy one-year-old girl, but her parents were worried about her development because she was not doing many things that her older brother did at her age, like playing peek-a-boo and mimicking expressions and gestures. That girl’s parent tried to engage her with toys, songs, and games, but nothing they did gets her interest, let alone a laugh or a smile. In fact, she rarely made eye contact. And although her hearing had been checked and was normal, she did not babble, make other baby noises, or respond when her parents call her name. She needed to be checked out by a child development specialist right away. And she had. As a result, she got diagnose with an autism spectrum disorder.

Children diagnosed with autism do not differ physically from normally developed children. Therefore, the data required for diagnosis are related to the child’s development process. Their performance in this process allows parents and pediatricians to obtain the necessary data for diagnosis.

During pregnancy, the family should be informed about autism and the children should be taught what sequence they should do in case of developmental disruptions. Success in this regard will create an opportunity to diagnose autism early.



Children generally have a specific developmental process, and children with autism spectrum disorder cannot keep up with this developmental process. When families compare the health condition of children of the same age group to their own children, they may observe some behaviors that require them to suspect having autism. A certain number of these behaviors is essential in order to take their children to experts.

It is often advised to families to talk to their children, even if they are babies, to make eye contact and to get the baby’s attention by wearing colorful clothing. Babies need to be embraced more frequently and shown affection. Babies should not be allowed to watch anything for hours when they are alone.

Children with autism should definitely contact and touch people. The most important advice to families is to raise their children in a crowded family environment in a way that is open to communication with traditional methods.

In some cases, the child can reach the level that can almost eliminate this disease with the education he/she receives, but he/she is not able to cure completely. What the family will do is to start education with early diagnosis. For this, the parents should monitor the baby very well especially from the second month and investigate whether they have symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.



Causes of Autism in Babies


The cause of autism spectrum disorder is not known exactly. In general, it is accepted that autism is caused by some nervous problems that affect brain structure and function. Autism-causing genes or environmental factors are still under investigation. Having autism has nothing to do with being a child of any race or family with a certain status.

There is no relationship between having autism and language, religion, race or status. It is a condition that can be seen in every individual and every individual’s child. It is not caused by a mistake made by the mother or father during pregnancy.

The family plays a serious role in every developmental stage of the baby. Children should not be allowed to watch television before the age of 2 years. Not every child watching television becomes having autism, but children under the age of 2 are at risk group.

Advertisements and clips are inconvenient for babies obviously. The fact that caregivers have babies watching television constantly, also known as caregiver syndrome in the community, is extremely wrong for babies’ health. Children before the age of two should not be allowed to watch television.

Some families have been shocked by the fact that their babies are prone to autism or have signs of autism spectrum disorder. There were even parents thinking of divorce because of their psychological tension. Treatment of autism is a long process that requires persistence and patience. That is why families should support each other before they can be helpful for their children.



Developmental Red Flags for Autism


There are some delays that could be observed in some children. If parents observe those kinds of behaviors, it means that their children need immediate evaluation by child pediatrician in case of having autism spectrum disorder. It is important to keep in mind that these criteria are not conclusive evidence of autism spectrum disorder. They are simply things you should look for to determine if there is a need to further assess the baby.

  • By 3 months: No following objects with eyes, no respond to loud noises, no grasping or holding objects
  • By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, no joyful expressions, no affection, no interest in games, no laugh or make squealing sounds
  • By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions
  • By 12 months: Lack of response to name or basically ignorance, no babbling or baby talk, no back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving
  • By 16 months: No spoken words
  • By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases that do not involve imitating or repeating

As babies get older, the red flags for autism spectrum disorder become more diverse and more different. They exhibit many warning signs and symptoms. However, those symptoms are mostly involved in impaired social skills, speech and language difficulties, non-verbal communication difficulties, and inflexible behavior.

What Should Parents and Pediatricians Be Careful About in Case of Suspicion of Autism?


The first year of a child’s life is normally a non-stop daily or weekly celebration of “firsts” – the first smile, first crawl, first steps, first words or first full night’s sleep if parents are lucky. But what if the baby does not seem to be reaching these milestones? Parents should keep in mind that every child is different from each other, and meets these milestones at different time periods, so when should parents start wondering about autism if something else is going on?



It is important to keep in mind that the parent does not accept the wait and see approach. Sometimes experts say that does not worry or wait and see to concerned parents. However, waiting is the worst thing that parents can do. They risk losing valuable time at any age where the child has the best chance for improvement and development.

Abnormalities in initiating communication with other people around them: The child, if he/she has autism, may struggle alone without looking around for assistance, rather than asking for help with something.

Impaired ability in order to initiate and respond to opportunities to share experiences with other people around them: Children with autism spectrum disorder may not follow their parents gaze or initiate contact with others around them.

Showing irregularities when playing with toys: Instead of using a toy as its main purpose, like picking up a toy fork and pretending to eat with it, the child may do something unusual with the toy.

Reducing the variety of sounds, words, and gestures used in order to communicate: Children with autism spectrum disorder have a much smaller inventory of sounds, words, and gestures that they use to communicate with others compared with normally developed children.



Symptoms and Signs of Autism in Babies


There are no standardized criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder as early as age 1, but experts say that they hope to develop them soon. Spotting the early signs of autism spectrum disorder in babies, infant, toddlers, in short in young children, can be hard if you are not an autism expert. Many of these signs and symptoms are common to all young children but they are observed more often in children who have autism spectrum disorder.

Parents can be suspected about their child to have autism if some behaviors are not observed. These behaviors could be, for example, if the baby does not look in the face of others in the first month, if she/he does not start smiling in her/his 2nd month, if he/she does not follow the object in the following months and does not react to audible stimuli, if grip skills do not begin to develop after 3 months, if after 4 months the facial expressions do not become clear, if he/she does not bubble like syllables at 6 months, if she/he does not try to imitate what is spoken after the 7th month. Thus, parents can be suspected.

Especially from the second month, parents should observe their babies very well and see if they carry autism signs. The most important symptom is eye contact. Babies with autism spectrum disorder do not make eye contact with the other person, especially the mother. They do not follow anything with their eyes and do not react to sounds.

Besides, the baby should have adopted the person who cared for him/her from the 10th month. If the development of pointing and pointing objects remains unresponsive, the baby should be assessed for autism spectrum disorder.



•    They do not make eye contact, they do not react to calling out.

•    They are indifferent to what is going on around them and pretend not to hear.

•    They do not respond to their names or to the sound of a familiar voice.

•    They do not have any interest in showing objects.

•    They do not pay attention to or frightened of new faces.

•    They do not appear to know the function of a common household object such as a telephone by 15 months.

•    They do not imitate and do not play with a script while playing. They can follow something that is going on for hours.

•    They do not play with peers.

•    They do not share interest and enjoyment with people around them.

•    They are indifferent when their mothers leave.

•    They can turn on their toes and around themselves for minutes.

•    They make meaningless body movements.



•    They make meaningless sounds and can repeat the same word repeatedly in a meaningless manner. They do not have speaking skills.

•    They do not have social smiles.

•    They do not like hugging and cuddling.

•    They do not imitate movements and facial expressions.

•    They do not wave goodbye.

•    They do not use any gestures in order to communicate.

•    They do not make noises in order to get attention.

•    They do not notice or care if someone hurts themselves or experiences discomfort.

•    They do not point with their fingers. They do not point to an item that they are interested in.

•    They do not follow objects visually or follow people’s gestures when someone points things out.

When we look at many of the people we call healthy, we see that everyone has different personalities and they are accepted with these characteristics. Likewise, individuals with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to draw attention because of the obvious situations in their behavior. Trying to see this in part as a personality will allow for a much easier way of life for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, people around them and also normally developed people.



When the video footage, which was recorded before, of children with autism is examined, the behavior and movement patterns are seen in autism can be identified. It was observed that babies demonstrate two types of different behavior patterns of autism.

In research, the first group consisted of restless and constantly crying babies, and the second group consisted of the opposite, extremely calm and well-behaved babies. Careful parents may be worried that their children will not cry even if they are wet or hungry, and their children’s lack of interest in the environment.

When the video images were examined, it was determined that the children did not look at the camera very much, did not make eye contact, did not smile, they wanted to be alone, they broke off from the outside world, they were restless on their mother’s arms and therefore the mother had to leave her child most of the time.

Early diagnosis is extremely important, but it cannot be said that a 5-month-old baby has an autism spectrum disorder according to these findings. The diagnosis requires at least two to three years. However, in case of such suspicion, it is necessary to take close monitoring of the baby.



Tests for Babies on Autism Spectrum


There is a checklist for autism in babies and toddlers, which is M-CHAT. M-Chat is The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. It is intended for babies between 16 months and 30 months of age.

It consists of 200 questions about the child’s behavior and should be answered as yes or no. Questions are drawn from social development milestones and DSM IV Criteria. The test is completed in 10 minutes. It is easy to score and maintain. It is available in 17 languages. There is no cost needed except for commercial users.

Parents should fill in. The results will let the suspicious parents know if further evaluation may be needed. It allows to parents using the results of the test in order to discuss any concerns that parents may have with the child’s pediatrician. If there are failed items, they require follow-up questions either in person or by phone and it takes approximately 15 minutes.



1.    If you point at something across the room, does your child look at it? (For example, if you point at a toy or an animal, does your child look at the toy or animal?)

2.    Have you ever wondered if your child might be deaf?

3.    Does your child play pretend or make-believe? (For example, pretend to drink from an empty cup, pretend to talk on a phone, or pretend to feed a doll or stuffed animal)

4.    Does your child like climbing on things? (For example, furniture, playground equipment, or stairs)

5.    Does your child make unusual finger movements near his or her eyes? (For example, does your child wiggle his or her fingers close to his or her eyes?)

6.    Does your child point with one finger to ask for something or to get help? (For example, pointing to a snack or toy that is out of reach?)

7.    Does your child point with one finger to show you something interesting? (For example, pointing to an airplane in the sky or a big truck in the road)

8.    Is your child interested in other children? (For example, does your child watch other children, smile at them, or go to them?)

9.    Does your child show you things by bringing them to you or holding them up for you to see – not to get help, but just to share? (For example, showing you a flower, a stuffed animal, or a toy truck)

10.    Does your child respond when you call his or her name? (For example, does he or she look up, talk or babble, or stop what he or she is doing when you call his or her name?)

11.    When you smile at your child, does he or she smile back at you?

12.    Does your child get upset by everyday noises? (For example, a vacuum cleaner or loud music)

13.    Does your child have the ability to walk?

14.    Does your child look you in the eye when you are talking to him or her, playing with him or her or dressing him or her?

15.    Does your child try to copy what you do? (For example, wave bye-bye, clap, or make a funny noise when you do)

16.    If you turn your head to look at something, does your child look around to see what you are looking at?

17.    Does your child try to get you to watch him or her? (For example, does your child look at you for praise, or say “look” or “watch me”)

18.    Does your child understand when you tell him or her to do something? (For example, if you don’t point, can your child understand “put the book on the chair” or “bring me the blanket”?)

19.    If something new happens, does your child look at your face to see how you feel about it? (For example, if he or she hears a strange or funny noise, or sees a new toy, will he or she look at your face?)

20.    Does your child like movement activities? (For example, being swung or bounced on your knee)

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