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Diagnosing autism -- a developmental disorder that affects communication and social interaction -- early is one of your best weapons against the condition, since the earlier your child can begin speech and behavioral therapies the more likely the therapy is to make a significant difference. Although it's rare to get a firm diagnosis before 18 months, that doesn't mean you can't seek treatment for any of your child's developmental delays as soon as you become concerned. It's important to trust your instincts as a parent and bring any worries you may have to your pediatrician's attention. To that end, here are some basic milestones to look out for during your child's first year.
By 3 months your baby should:
• Respond to loud noises
• Follow moving objects with his eyes
• Attempt to grasp and hold objects
• Smile at familiar people (at least Mom or Dad)
• Show interest in faces
By 7 months your baby should:
• Turn her head to see where sounds are coming from
• Show affection
• Laugh and squeal when he's happy
• Reach for and hold objects
• Try to get your attention with his behavior
• Play or enjoy simple games like peekaboo
By 12 months your baby should:
• Crawl or scoot on belly (some babies never crawl)
• Say single words
• Use gestures like waving good-bye
• Poke with index finger
• Stand with support
By 24 months your baby should:
• Have at least 15 words
• Use two-word sentences, like "give me" or "want juice"
• Points to objects or pictures when named for him
• Imitate adults' actions and words
• Push a toy with wheels
• Follow simple instructions, like "bring me your cup"
If your child misses one or two of these milestones, it does not mean that he has autism. Every child develops at his own pace, and some kids develop more quickly in certain areas than others, like mastering speech milestones on track but being a little behind on physical feats like pointing or walking. This list is just a basic guideline; if, over several months some missed milestones start to add up (or your baby starts losing skills he's already tackled), you should probably have him evaluated by a developmental specialist (your pediatrician can refer you to one). --Hallie Levine Sklar
Originally published in American Baby magazine, November 2006. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.