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Developmental Delays in Children with Autism

While every child with autism spectrum disorder displays symptoms differently, certain developmental delays can be signs of autism in children. Although autism is not usually diagnosed until a child is at least 2 years old, signs of developmental delays associated with autism can appear for some children within the first year of a child’s life. Other children with autism may appear to develop alongside their typically developing peers during infancy, but then slow, stop developing, or regress as they get older.

Delays Reaching Social Milestones

Although autism can be challenging to detect in very young children, there are some key characteristics to look for, like repetitive movements, fixations or obsessions, or issues with sensory processing. Additionally, the CDC recommends looking for characteristics related to social communication and interaction, like avoiding or refusing to maintain eye contact, or showing little interest in peers. Delays meeting certain milestones can also be a sign of autism: 

  • 9 months of age: not responding to their name
  • 9 months of age: not showing facial expressions associated with basic emotions like happy, sad, angry or surprised
  • 12 months of age: not engaging in simple interactive games like pat-a-cake
  • 12 months of age: using few or no physical gestures like pointing, tugging, or waving
  • 15 months of age: not sharing interests with others, such as showing their caregiver an object they like
  • 18 months of age: not looking at something when another person points to it
  • 24 months of age: not noticing when others are hurt or sad
  • 30 months of age: not engaging in pretend when playing, like “feeding” a doll
  • 3 years of age or older: having difficulty understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • 5 years of age: not playing games that involve taking turns

While even typically developing children may not reach every milestone right on cue, significant delays or delays reaching several milestones can point to autism in a child. Further examination by a qualified medical doctor or psychologist is recommended any child exhibiting characteristics like the ones listed above.

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