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Signs of Autism in Children Ages 12 – 18 Months

12 – 18 months of age is the most critical time to identify red flags in your child’s development. A formal autism diagnosis is typically given around 2-years of age so if you notice some of the signs below, please arrange for a formal medical diagnostic evaluation to confirm or rule out autism. Early detection and early intervention along with early ABA therapy can have a lifetime impact for children with autism so it is important to trust your gut if you feel like something is suspect.

Signs to Look For

Your baby rarely makes eye contact with you and other loved ones

Babies tend to naturally look at and look for their parents and other caregivers. In addition, they may tend to recognize unfamiliar faces and move closer to those who are familiar or show “stranger danger”. Start to notice if your child is looking for you and exhibiting stranger danger; if they are not, it could be an early sign of autism.

Rarely responds to their name or other social bids

Babies tend to show strong eye contact in response to their name by 18-months. They will also readily respond to simple social bids such as waving goodbye as someone is leaving, looking towards an object you may have pointed at, or even following simple commands such as “come here.”

Limited gestures

Around 12 – 14 months of age, babies become eager to use gestures as a form of communication. Most babies will use close to 16 gestures by 16 months. The most common gesture is pointing. Other gestures may include clapping, waving, blowing a kiss, high-fiving, and nodding their head. These early gestures can facilitate language acquisition, so pay attention to your child’s gestures. If your child has no gestures or limited gestures by 18-months, this might indicate a concern.

Little or no imitation

At around 8 months of age, your child should start imitating simple gestures. If your child is not imitating by the time they are 18 months old, it could be a sign of autism. Imitation is critical for language development, so it is important to model different actions for your baby to imitate and begin monitoring if imitation is not occurring.

Lack of pretend play

By 13 months, children begin to learn by observing and copying the actions of other children and adults. Children with autism usually have strengths in using objects in solitary play but do not often engage in pretend play. Pretend play leads to socialization with others and is an important part of a child’s development. Common pretend play actions at 12 – 18 months include pretending to drink and eat when utensils are out, covering a baby with a blanket, crashing cars together, or pretending to fly with their arms out.

More interested in objects than people

Babies are eager to interact with people, especially those they know and have a great rapport with. Children with autism often show signs such as preferring to be alone with a preferred object for a long period of time. Often, people will say “they are in their own world.” Begin noticing if objects are preferred more than people and monitor your child’s attempts at social interaction.

Unusual ways of moving their fingers, hands, or body

Children with autism often exhibit what researchers and practitioners call “stereotypy.” These are repetitive or unusual movements of the body. This often can look like repetitive rocking, hand flapping, unusual stiffening or flaring of their fingers, or waving their fingers in front of their eyes.

Repeats unusual movements with objects

Similar to the above sign of making unusual or repetitive movements with their body, a young child with autism may make unusual movements with objects. This can look like lining up objects in a very precise manner, spinning the wheels of a toy car instead of playing with a car, placing items in front or to the side of their eyes, and a variety of other less functional ways of interacting with objects.

Unusual reaction to sounds, sights, or textures

Babies with autism can show unusual reactions or be very sensitive to certain sounds, sights, or textures. A child with autism may hold their hands over their ears when a loud noise is present, get upset about a tag on a shirt, avoid specific textures of food, and other less typical responses to items in their environment. Pay close attention to these signs at a young age and seek out help if these unusual reactions to environmental stimuli begin to interfere with your child’s quality of life.

Lack of babbling and simple words

Most babies will begin babbling at around 4 months, practice repetitive simple sounds like “ma ma” and “da da” around 7 months, and will say their first recognizable words between 12 and 18 months. Children with autism may not babble or produce recognizable words until they begin obtaining therapy (e.g., ABA therapy or speech therapy). Lack of babbling or speaking is a core feature of autism and identifying a concern with speech early will be critical to begin treatment early.

If your child is experiencing some, many, or all the signs above at 12 – 18 months, it is highly recommended to begin consulting with a medical professional and potentially scheduling a diagnostic evaluation. Unfortunately, many diagnostic clinics can have lengthy waitlists, and often children with autism do not get a formal diagnosis until closer to 2 years of age. Please reach out to The Place for Children with Autism if you need support obtaining a diagnostic evaluation, as we have community partners who can assist with shorter wait times!

Also See:
Signs of Autism in Children Ages 9 – 12 Months
Signs of Autism in Children Ages 18 – 24 Months

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