Frances de L. Martínez-Pedraza, BA and Alice S. Carter, Phd 

There is now clear evidence that the first signs and symptoms of Autism are evident for most children by 12 to 18 months of age. This knowledge, coupled with emerging evidence that early intervention that targets social-communicative behaviours improves long-term outcomes, has led to increased early detection efforts. Families who are confronted with a diagnosis of Autism often experience significant parenting stress and strain as they must navigate complex intervention decisions and learn to adapt to their child's unique set of challenges. The severity of social and communication deficits, along with sensory sensitivities and behavioural difficulties, appears to exacerbate parenting stress. Helping parents of very young children learn how to facilitate their children's social and communicative behaviours is the goal of several relatively new interventions for young children (eg, Early Denver Model, Floortime). Such approaches, which show great promise for children's long-term adaptation, are also likely to increase parenting efficacy and reduce stress. Earlier detection and intervention efforts are improving the long-term functioning of children with Autism. 


Some parents recognize the signs of autism, when their baby is around six to 12 months old—and maybe even earlier.  

Here's how to recognize the early signs of autism in babies and why prompt diagnosis is key to managing the condition. 

What Is Autism? 

Autism is a complex neurological and developmental disorder that can affect social skills like playing, learning, and communicating. As each child is different, some may have different support needs for social-communication difficulties and repetitive/sensory behaviours. 

It is so important to identify their individual strengths and interests and those need to be celebrated and encouraged. 

What Causes Autism? 

Doctors don't know exactly what causes autism, but it's believed to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Certain circumstances also increase a child's chance of developing autism. For example, if you have a sibling with autism, your risk of developing it increases to about 20% on average. 

Other risk factors include the following: 

  • Having a sibling with autism 
  • Premature birth 
  • Low birth weight 
  • Pregnancy or delivery complications 
  • Certain genetic or chromosomal conditions 
  • Being conceived by parents with advanced age 

For more resources, please visit: 

What Are the Signs of Autism in Infants? 

While most children are older when they are diagnosed, some parents can recognize the signs of autism in babies, depending on the symptoms and their severity. Of course, all babies develop on different timelines. But it can be helpful to know the potential red flags to look for when it comes to development. 

For example, babies with autism sometimes fail to communicate through sounds or gestures and may not respond to social stimulation. Pay attention to whether your baby is reacting to social information and the environment. Within the first year of life, babies start to babble, use gestures like pointing and smile at their parents. 

It's important to note that the following criteria isn’t conclusive evidence of autism and could be a developmental delay due to being born premature or sick. 

Signs of autism in babies age 0 to 3 months 

  • Not following moving objects with their eyes 
  • Sensitivity to loud noises 
  • Limited facial expressions 
  • Poor facial recognition (especially new faces) 

Signs of autism in babies age 4 to 7 months 

  • Disinterest in certain sounds (e.g., not turning to locate where sounds are coming from) 
  • Perceived lack of affection 
  • Limited babbling 
  • Limited verbal expression (e.g., not laughing or making squealing sounds) 
  • May not reach for objects. 
  • Does not grasp or hold onto objects. 
  • May demonstrate limited facial expressions and/or emotional reactivity (e.g., not smiling on their own) 

Signs of autism in babies age 8 to 12 months 

  • May not crawl 
  • May avoid eye contact 
  • Limited or incomprehensible speech 
  • May refrain from using gestures such as waving or shaking their head 
  • May not point to objects or pictures 
  • May appear unbalanced or unable to stand even when supported 

What To Do If Your Baby Exhibits Signs of Autism 

If you notice some of the signs of autism in your baby, you should make an appointment with your doctor, to discuss any concerns. 


Always remember that the child you love can’t be summed up by a checklist of deficits. Children with autism also have particular strengths, such as attention to detail, creative talents, truthfulness and honesty. In time you and others will discover your child’s unique strengths. 

While an autism diagnosis may seem worrisome, many children with autism lead happy and fulfilling lives. Learning your child is on the spectrum is not a bad thing, nor should it be viewed in a negative light. Still, you may be wondering how you can best handle your child's condition. 

Autism Treatments and Therapies 

Depending on your child’s symptoms, one or more of these therapies may be useful: 

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy 
  • Behaviour management therapy 
  • Physical therapy 
  • Speech therapy 
  • Occupational therapy 
  • Nutritional therapy 
  • Educational interventions 
  • Medication 

Early intervention is meant to help children with autism develop to their own full potential. The brain can respond to treatments more effectively at younger ages, which can make interventions more effective. As your child gets older, those interventions might include speech therapy, occupational therapy, mental health counselling, and whatever else experts believe will help your child thrive. 

Useful Links 

Special thanks for Autism Awareness Australia for content sharing and providing support for families. 

Autism Awareness Australia 

Raising Children 

Miracle Babies Foundation 

Need support? NurtureConnect allows you to connect with our NurtureProgram support team, or call our 24 hour NurtureLine 1300 622 243 or join our Facebook community.


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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances. To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].