It seems as if autism is always making headlines, with new research pointing to the many risk factors and new tests that make it possible to detect the condition even earlier. In a recent study from Children's Hospital Boston, doctors analyzed the brain activity of at-risk 9-month-olds (at risk because they have an older autistic sibling) to try to determine what signs will predict whether they will develop autism. That test isn't widely available yet, and right now official diagnoses of autism aren't usually given until kids reach age 2 or 3. But parents can be on the lookout for signs much sooner. “Early discovery and intervention can make a huge difference, so be aware of any delays your baby is experiencing and discuss them with your pediatrician,” says Susan L. Hyman, M.D., division chief of neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.
Below are possible warning signs in children from age 2 months to 2 years; if you observe any of these, talk to your doctor, who will then decide whether more testing is necessary. Don't fret if you occasionally see one or two of these—it could be another type of language, learning, or behavior problem, or even nothing at all.
BY 2 TO 3 MONTHS, your baby isn't making frequent eye contact.
BY 3 MONTHS, he isn't smiling at you.
BY 6 MONTHS, he doesn't laugh.
BY AROUND 8 MONTHS, he isn't following your gaze when you look away from him.
BY 9 MONTHS, he hasn't begun to babble.
BY 1 YEAR, he isn't consistently turning to you when you call his name.
BY 1 YEAR, he hasn't begun to wave bye-bye.
BY 12 TO 14 MONTHS, he hasn't said a single word.
BY 14 MONTHS, he isn't pointing to show interest.
BY 18 MONTHS, he doesn't play “pretend.”