Autism in Babies

autism in babies

Identifying Autism in babies before the age of 2 years is often difficult to spot.

​There is a reason that so many health nurses, doctors and parents look at developmental milestone checklists. It is not to big note the fast developers or put pressure on parents to “teach skills to keep up with the other babies at playgroups”. It is to help identify any potential concerns including autism in babies.

​Autism in babies - rarely have obvious signs we can see

they generally don’t have particular face shapes or other “physical signs”. Often in the early baby stage they present as physically healthy babies. They can even be undemanding as they are not seeking attention.

​Identifying autism in babies is often more about noticing that they are “missing” common developmental milestones on checklist rather than seeing atypical signs. This is why regular developmental checks are vital. Research clearly shows early intervention is essential for children to meet their full potential. See our Checklist and milestone tab for online early milestone checklists.

Red Flag Warning Signs of Autism in Babies under 18 months.

If we think about “What is Autism” we instantly know we should be looking at early social and interactional cues babies give us as we interact with them while feeding, dressing and playing with them. To receive a diagnosis of Autism a child has to show deficits in social-interactional and communication development. Remember all other medical or environmental factors need to be eliminated before autism is considered (e.g., ear infections, brain injury).

​What might social concerns look like in babies with autism?

The following provides some social and interactional communication warning signs. Remember if a child does not have some the skills listed in does not mean they have Autism. There are many causes of reduced communication skills and Autism is only one of them. If you have concerns about a baby’s development it is important to seek Medical advice.

Autism in babies

Social and Interactional signs of Autism in Babies

These signs are not exclusive however are aimed to provide a starting point to consider when looking at a baby’s development. Full developmental checklists and medical professionals should always be consulted if concerns arise.

Age Level                                             Typical Developmental Areas to Check for social-interactional Communication Skills -                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Warning sign for developmental concerns such as Autism in Babies is/ was present (√ if noted)
6 months
                                   · No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions                                                                                            
· By 6 months babies can imitate or copy very simple actions such as tapping on a high chair tray or begin clapping hands. Lack of imitation has been found to be a key characteristic of Autism (see our Imitation Checklist here)
· During bottle, breast feeding and change times babies typically look at who is feeding/ dressing them a lot of the time– early lack of eye contact during these close interactions can be a warning sign.
9 months
                                                                   No back-and-forth sharing of sounds e.g., no babbling, smiles or efforts to make more sounds if you copy their babble sounds. People often comment at 9 months “I know it’s babble but it is like she is trying to have a conversation with me!”. This frequently does not happen with Babies with Autism.                                                                                                                                                              
Smiles or other facial expressions are limited and/or not shared in back-and-forth playful interactions.                                                 
Interaction with babies of this age should be “fun” as you can get a reaction from them as you play peek-a-boo or make toys appear and disappear. This again is often limited or not present with autism in babies. You often get limited or no reaction to your attempts to have “fun”. They often do not imitate early physical movements or facial expressions.
Babies will typically make a noise or bang toys or look at you expectantly at 9 months to show they want to initiate an interaction with you. A key characteristic of Autism is a lack this initiation of social interactions.
Babies showing signs of autism often do not respond to cuddling or reach up to “tell you” they want to be picked up.
By 9 months at the latest babies should be following with their eyes as you move around. They will track with their eyes as you move a toy from one side to another or up and down. Babies with Autism often show a lack of visual tracking.
The power of the point!  Babies begin to point to things of interest. They will point to something then look at you to see if you have joint attention to the same thing (i.e. look backward and forwards between you and the object of interest). They will also look in the direction of what you point to. Babies with Autism often lack the recognition that gestures (non-verbal communication) has meaning                                                                                                                                                                          
12 months
                                                                                                    Lack of response to name. All children will avoid turning to their names on some occasions. This may occur particularly when they are engrossed in an activity. However, by 12 months of age a child typically turns or acknowledges that they are being called on most of the time. Babies and children with autism often do not or rarely respond to their name.                                                                  
Lack of early “baby talk”/ engaged babbling: Between 9 months and 12 months of age children will babble with intent and “word-like” babble emerges. This babble with have a large range of different sounds (b, p, k, g, m, w). Typically first spoken words begin to emerge at about 12 months of age. These are words other than the “mumu” and “dada” word attempts. Once first word emerge children often show a rapid increase in the number of spoken words between 12 and 18 months. First words should definitely be in place in typical development by 16 months of age                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Lack of early non-verbal communication: Typically gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving are in regular use by 12 months to communicate joint interest, wants and needs. Babies with Autism may lack understanding and use of non-verbal communication acts.                                                                                                                                                                              
18 months
                                                                                                   No first words. Children at 18 months would typically be saying a least 20-30 spoken words. If first words (not counting “mumu and dada”) are not in place by 16 months we suggest contacting a speech therapist for suggestions on early intervention. SpeechNet conduct Babies Talk Too Groups to give parents and carers of all children ideas to boost communication and social skills in young babies and toddlers.
Loss of words/skills - Some parents of Babies with Autism notice a loss of skills. For example, first words or waves might have emerged however the child then appears to stop saying or using the communication skill.
Doesn’t follow simple instructions. Babies with autism often appear to “ignore” verbal instructions from an early age. For example, young children very quickly understands the expected response if you say “give it to me” and extend your hand for them to place something in it. Children with Autism often will not respond to this type of request. In addition by 18 months children typically are pointing to or retrieving named objects (e.g., where’s your teddy, get the book, point to the puppy picture). Babies with Autism again tend to ignore or do not respond to verbal requests.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
Autism in babies

How can SpeechNet Speech Pathology help with identifying and support babies with suspected Autism

Speech Pathologist assist in one-on-one Early Developmental Assessments including baselines for Autism in Babies

SpeechNet Speech Pathology can assist in discussing and providing an early developmental communication checklist if required. Documentation of skills can assist in monitoring developmental changes.

Feeding clinic for babies with autism signs or feeding concerns

  • We provide an infant feeding clinic for children that have difficulties with breast and bottle feeding. This sometimes occurs with babies with autism. For example sensory and hyper sensitive gags may be present.

Mother and baby groups: “Babies talk Too” Play Based Weekly Groups

  • We provide parent information talks and our Mother and Baby Play based groups (Babies Talk Too). This is a great way for parent to become aware of and understand the milestone stages of early social and communication development. This can assist in identifying any early difficulties and addressing them as early as potentially possible. These groups are for parents that may have concerns about early development, know children are at risk of early delays (e.g., premie, Down’s syndrome, repeated ear infections, no words at 16 months) as well as for parents that just want to be the best parents they can be to give their child a great start. Brain development is so important at this early stage and some great tips and games can boost communication and learning

Allied health infant/ Baby Developmental Assessments

  • At SpeechNet Speech Pathology we have Occupational Therapists, Dietitians and Child Physiotherapists that are experienced in the assessment and support of infants and babies. We can therefore provide a global developmental assessment or support service all under one roof. We work closely as a team with lactation consultants, health nurses, GPS, Paediatricians and other medical specialists

PHONE: 07 3349 9234


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Brisbane SpeechNet is open Monday - Saturday


62 Nursery Road, Holland Park West QLD 4124 Australia 

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