Moms Know Best

Recognizing the early signs of autism.

You’re a mom who keeps a close eye on your child’s development. You may have noticed something and can’t help but think, “Is this an early sign of a problem?” After all, the staggering number of children diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is growing.

It’s difficult to pinpoint one symptom of autism, as there is no one or even two true indicators. While there is plenty of scientific information floating around about potential warning signs, what have other moms like you noticed? Real moms with children who were diagnosed with ASD have shared those early signs, as provided below by age.

0-5 Months

During the first five months of her child’s life, Maureen, a mom in Milford, New Jersey, stated that she noticed her son was unusually disinterested in his surroundings. “He was content to lay in his crib even when he wasn’t sleeping. He didn’t swat at his toys and wasn’t interested in me.” Maureen’s son also seemed “overly sleepy.” Interestingly, when her child was upset, he was soothed by water and movement.

Other mothers with children diagnosed on the autism spectrum report a lack of eye contact and a feeling of being disconnected from their children in the 0-5 month age range. Many first-time moms believed this was typical. For experienced mothers, they felt sad or even angry that their child was not interested in them.

6 Months

Susana of Washington, New Jersey, noticed that her nearly 6-month-old son screamed and then shut down by falling asleep when he was at a loud place, such as the mall, a family gathering or a wedding. “When Jimmy got older, he would bang his head and chin on the wall or floor” when he was overstimulated.

9 Months

Similar to several other moms with children on the spectrum, Mary noticed that her son did not point or show signs of shared attention by 9 months. In other words, her son did not point out objects or people in his environment in order to share that experience with another person. This unspoken interaction is generally a time for parent and baby to connect.

10-15 Months

During this phase of development when table food is offered, moms observed that their children gagged and refused food due to texture. Additionally, certain surfaces such as grass and sand caused great distress.

Several mothers noticed that language was delayed. Either a child said a few words or only uttered sounds. On the other hand, some observed language development, but “it was phrases and lines from books that I read to [my son],” recalls Mary.

16-18 Months

During this phase of development, children begin to show great interest in toys and their peers. However, several mothers with children diagnosed with ASD noted that their children were disinterested in other kids and actually became distressed in their presence. Some moms also noticed that their children were not interested in playing with toys. “He examined the toys but didn’t really play with them,” Mary says. “I would build the tower with blocks and he would knock them down, but that was it.”

18-24 Months

Moms realized that language skills began to deteriorate. Several mothers shared that their children reached developmental milestones on time or even early. However, it was during this age frame that spontaneous language decreased.

24-36 Months

“John was an easy baby,” recall Linda and Rob of New Jersey. “He learned to talk early, speaking fluently and in complete sentences by 1 year old. The first sign of trouble was when he became a toddler.” Though temper tantrums are normal during this phase, several parents with autistic children indicated that they observed sustained and intense temper tantrums that lasted for as long as an hour. They also observed that their children were difficult to redirect and often became stuck with one idea that they could not let go.

Other mothers noticed fixations on certain objects in the environment, like the ceiling fan and blinking lights according to Lisa of Mount Arlington, New Jersey.

While there is no one definitive sign of autism, take stock of what other moms noticed about their children’s development. If in doubt, share your observations with your pediatrician and consult with a neurologist or developmental pediatrician. Also, contact Early Intervention for an evaluation and needed services.

Red Alert Signs

  • Not pointing or sharing your attention at 9 months of age.
  • Not interested in you or other family members.
  • Reached development milestones on time or earlier and then regressed between 15-18 months.
  • Very little or no language by age 2.