Autism Spectrum Disorders
Signs and Symptoms

Early indicators that a baby might be on the autism spectrum include a lack of pointing and talking, an absence of interest in games, and a sense of withdrawal or unresponsiveness.

A baby who shows a few of these signs doesn't necessarily have autism. An 18-month-old who hasn't begun to talk could be autistic, or he or she might have trouble hearing, be under-stimulated or just slower to develop language.

Autism involves impairment in three distinct areas of development. The first is social skills. Young children with autism have limited eye contact, facial expressiveness and body language. They don't seek the attention of parents in the usual way and become cut off from social learning.

The second area of impairment is language. Children with autism speak mainly to get their needs met and rarely to have conversations, or they simply do not talk much at all. They may also have trouble engaging in make-believe and even simple physical play with peers.

Activities and interests form the third area of impairment. Children with autism may flap their hands, rock back and forth and have other repetitive movements. They can be intensely interested in the senses — for instance, the feel or smell of a toy. Those with milder forms of autism, such as Asperger's syndrome, may fixate on a narrow topic of interest such as vacuum cleaners or traffic signs.

If you feel your child shows a number of these signs, mention your concerns to your pediatrician. If the doctor thinks your child might have autism, your child will probably be referred to specialists for a comprehensive assessment.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.