Autism in Babies: A Guide to Recognizing Developmental Differences in Infants

As a caregiver or parent of an infant, you have a better chance of closely monitoring your baby’s development. You can see the little changes that your baby undergoes every day – changes that indicate that it is building new abilities, skills, and behaviors.

Now, if you are observant and know what you’re looking for, you will be able to detect the early symptoms of autism. Why? Well, the fact is that the earliest symptoms of autism are not necessarily the presence of unexpected behavior, but the absence of ability or skill that usually develops by a particular age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most parents with autistic kids usually observe the signs within the first year of life. 80% to 90% of parents observe developmental differences by the time the child attains 2 years of age.

It is worth mentioning that parental instincts and observations are very important because identifying these developmental differences gives your child the chance of getting an early diagnosis and of course, appropriate care.

Symptoms of autism in babies

Here’s the thing: autism does not affect your baby’s physical appearance. However, it affects your baby’s communication and how their relationship with people around them.

Autism is a “spectrum” condition because of the wide variations in symptoms, signs, and abilities. If you notice these differences, then you must discuss them with your child’s pediatrician.

Less eye contact

Babies have the habit of making eye contact with people around them from a very young age. By the second month of birth, most infants can identify faces and make skillful eye contact. As they get older, they begin to use eye contact as a way of gaining information about their immediate environment and building social skills and relationships.

According to the National Institutes of Health, autistic babies begin to reduce eye contact at 2 months of age. This declining eye contact may be a sign of autism.

Minimal gesturing or pointing

Babies learn the art of gesturing before they start talking. It is important to note that gesturing is a baby’s first way of communicating. Autistic children do not gesture or point as much as non-autistic children. Not pointing or gesturing as much as they should be an indication of a language delay.

Another sign of a developmental difference is when your infant fails to gaze when you are pointing at something. This skill is known as joint attention. Autistic children have decreased joint attention.

Giving very little or no response to their name

Most infants understand and respond to their names at 6 months of age. The response is, even more, when their name is spoken by their mom.

The same cannot be said of autistic children. They show a developmental difference, and so, by 9 months, most autistic babies do not orient or respond to their names. Researchers suggest that this happens more as a pattern of nonresponse, and not a single instance.

Emotionless facial expressions

Facial expressions are a way of communicating feelings and thoughts non-verbally. Very limited research has been carried out on emotional expression in infants with autism. However, studies involving children of school age show that children with autism display very little emotions through facial expressions as compared to non-autistic children.

This does not mean that autistic children are unemotional. They have emotions. It’s only that it doesn’t show on their faces.

Delayed speech or language

Toddlers and babies do not start talking at the same age.

Studies have shown that at 12 months, children with autism often understand and say fewer words than nonautistic children. If your child doesn’t say single words by 16 months of age or is not using at least 2-word phrases by 24 months of age, then you may want to speak with a pediatrician.

According to the National Institutes on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, children may have “uneven” language development, with the development being exceptional in some areas and impaired in others.

How is it treated?

Some strategies and techniques may help children with autism to develop skills that would help them function better in society. Because the features of autism vary, it is important to adopt a multimodal approach when treating children with autism.

The following therapies may help to depend on your child’s symptoms:

  • Joint attention therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Social skills training
  • Behavior management therapies
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Educational interventions
  • Medications