If you've ever checked one or two of the boxes on those autism red-flag lists but then never bothered to speak to your pediatrician about it because your child didn't seem to exhibit any of the other symptoms, read on.
Recent research shows that for every kid who receives an actual autism diagnosis, there's another who has autistic traits -- including repetitive behaviors and communication problem -- but is not found to have the disorder. For a diagnosis to be made, a child must exhibit a certain number and severity level of these characteristics. "But lots of kids suffer from impairing autistic traits, even though they may not meet the full criteria," says Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer for the national advocacy group Autism Speaks. The good news is that there are excellent new treatment options for these kids. Follow your instincts, says Dawson, and talk to your pediatrician if you think your child has trouble in even just one of the following areas: "Parents are really good at recognizing symptoms early on. They just need to act on that gut feeling."
Difficulty forming relationships with peers
Doesn't show empathy toward others
Inability to understand and participate in give-and-take activities, like sharing toys
Trouble reading and responding to social cues
Exhibits extreme distress over minor changes in routine
Has an overly narrow area of focus when playing or a very restricted range of interests
Is significantly verbally or developmentally behind for his age