signs of autism

How to Recognize the Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

In early 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This study identified 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Every child is different and develops at his or her own pace. However, there are specific developmental milestones that all children should be reaching by specific ages. “Often, in children with ASD, their concrete cognitive skills are good, but their development of social emotional, communication and play skills are a challenge,” says Maria Emerson, speech-language pathologist and manager of Virtua’s Early Intervention Program. “For example, children with ASD might be advanced at knowing and reciting their letters, numbers, colors and shapes, but they can’t pretend-play.”

Autism generally isn’t diagnosed until after age 3, but signs of developmental delay can begin to appear as early as 6 months. Here are some signs to look for in your child:

  • Very quiet as a baby with limited vocalizations and babbling.
  • Limited vocabulary, says few words, or doesn’t talk at all.
  • Decreased use of gestures and pointing.
  • Lack of or inconsistent eye contact.
  • Overly interested in specific toys or mechanical toys.
  • Plays with parts of toys (i.e. wheels of a car).
  • Obsessed with technology and may be very advanced at tech games.
  • Likes to be alone. For example, may spend long periods of time alone in his crib or behind a couch playing.
  • Seemingly shows a lack emotion. For example, may be fussy or never seem to be very happy, or, might giggle and laugh for no apparent reason.
  • May flap hands when excited.
  • May walk on “tip toes.”
  • Has frequent tantrums and can be difficult to calm.
  • Engages in repetitive movements like spinning things, or repeatedly pushing the same button on a toy to hear the sound over and over again.
  • Has a hard time reading facial expressions in others like signs of anger or sadness
  • Lacks an understanding of safety. For example, will climb on things or touch a hot stove.
  • Lack of an awareness of rules.
  • May have feeding or eating issues. For example, many children with ASD are picky eaters. They may only eat a certain color or texture of food.
  • May exhibit issues with transitioning to different foods. For example, may not transition from a bottle to sippy cup or transition from pureed foods to mixed textured foods.
  • May exhibit inconsistent skills or “scattered skills.”
  • May have difficulty understanding an abstract idea. For example, when you show him a baseball and call it a “ball” but then you show him a football and call it a “ball,” he can’t understand that the two different shapes are objects called the same thing.

For more information about Virtua’s Early Intervention Program call: 1-888-VIRTUA-3 (1-888-847-8823).

To make a referral call: 1-888-NJEIINFO (1-888-653-4463).

Updated June 6, 2016

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