The 7 Early Signs Of Autism Spectrum Disorder That Every Parent Should Know

As the estimated rate of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) continues to increase, early identification, evaluation and intervention are critical for helping youth achieve their best developmental outcomes. Simply put, “wait and see” is too conservative of a strategy for a developmental disorder that is affecting kids at an epidemic rate - and while intervention at any developmental stage will be critical, many kids don’t receive interventions as early as possible because ASD is often diagnosed “later” than it should be. So it’s critical that parents get to know the early signs, especially the early red flags, and if you observe them, make sure you get your pediatrician onboard to seek out a comprehensive developmental evaluation.

To this end, I asked Dr. Ron Steingard of the Child Mind Institute for some guidance on the most important early signs of ASD, given his distinguished record of service as a child psychiatrist and researcher. Dr. Steingard proposed that I share information offered by a terrific website  - - on 7 early signs, or red flags, that should lead parents to seek out an immediate evaluation by a pediatrician and ideally clinicians with expertise in ASD. According to, these 7 early signs are:

  • By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions.
  • By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions.
  • By 12 months: Lack of response to name.
  • By 12 months: No babbling or “baby talk.”
  • By 12 months: 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 don’t involve imitating or repeating.

Dr. Steingard concurs that any one of these warning signs require attention from a clinician. It is critical to understand that observing these red flags does not mean that a diagnosis of ASD will be made – there can many other clinical issues in play, and in some cases development may in fact just be delayed. The   goal here is to be vigilant and pursue clinical evaluation so that a plan can be made to monitor development and, if necessary, initiate the early interventions which can make a huge difference in terms of developmental progress.

If you would like to learn more details about the symptoms of ASD, and other helpful information on other potential early signs of ASD, I suggest the following: section on autism;

The Child Mind Institute’s Mental Health Guide section on Autism Spectrum Disorder;

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention section on signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Sketch of doctor and baby via 


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  1. by CaliCat

    On April 12, 2012 at 11:46 am

    What do you recommend giving a parent/grandparent who will not consider autism to be a possibility for their kids? My cousin has twin boys who are almost 3 1/2 and they know three words. They generally grunt/scream and can be very destructive.

    The local daycare suggested evaluating for autism but their grandfather says he knows what autism looks like (he works in a school) and says they don’t have it. I am afraid that will be the end of it and they won’t look into it. Right now they think they aren’t talking because they are twins and will develop language later.

  2. by Sheila

    On April 23, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I would suggest that you take the kids to a speech therapist. That may actually help with their speech. My daughter couldnt talk by 3 1/2 and now at 7 1/2 i cant stop her from talking.
    One more thing always pray and believe because the biblle tells me to cast all my cares and worries to Jesus .I did that and God is good, my daughter reads better than all her classmates!!

  3. by BJ Norton

    On April 23, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Denial is very common when a child is not developing as expected. Rather than ask the parents to have the child evaluated for autism, a very scarey diagnosis, ask about having the child evaluated for speech or behvioral intervention. Having a 31 year old son with autism, I would add to the 7 symptoms. My son was atypical but from his birth, I knew something was very different about him. Mothers, trust your instincts. Not all autistics are non-verbal. Richard made two word sentances at 8 months old. But he called himself “boy” Probably from my saying “good boy” he never had his pronouns right and he treated us like we were furniture that could move and get him things. After he turned two, his speech was limited to “mommy make boy bottle” and echolalia. He sang every nursery rhyme and commercial jingle. Sang his abc’s but had little ability to communicate. He was a holy terror who would run into something, including walls, hit the object and run in a different direction. I wish your family good fortune and hope that they will not have the trials we have had.

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