Autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that appear in early childhood - usually before age 3. Some children show signs of autism in early infancy. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life but then suddenly become withdrawn, become aggressive or lose language skills they've already acquired. Children with autism generally have problems in three crucial areas of development -- social interaction, language and behavior. But because autism symptoms vary greatly, two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have strikingly different skills. In most cases, though, severe autism is typically marked by an inability to communicate or interact with other people normally.


The number of children diagnosed with autism is rising.   About 1 in 54 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.   While there is no cure for autism, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children with the disorder.


  • Does not make eye contact or makes little eye contact

  • Does not seem interested in other people

  • Does not react by looking at people when they are making “social sounds,” such as humming or clapping

  • Does not show as much interest in people as objects

  • Does not have a social smile (does not smile back at someone who smiles at them)

  • Does not show interest in watching people’s faces

  • Does not combine eye contact with smiling

  • Does not babble (or the babble doesn’t sound like “talking”)

  • Does not look at objects that another person is looking at

  • Does not try to engage other people in what he or she is looking at or doing

  • Does not engage in interactive gestures, such as giving, showing or reaching for parents

  • Does not respond when his or her name is called

  • Does not show a caring or concerned reaction to other people crying or in distress

  • Does not use gestures, such as waving “hi” or “bye,” or use the index finger to point

  • Does not look toward an object that is pointed to

  • Does not point to share interests with others, such as pointing to an appealing toy

  • Does not imitate common activities of others, such as sweeping the floor

  • Does not learn simple, new interactive routines

  • Does not develop pretend or make-believe play, such as feeding a doll

  • Does not use single words by 16 months

  • Does not spontaneously use meaningful two-word phrases (“go car” or “look doggie”) by 24 months

  • Experiences a significant loss of language or social skills that he or she once had

  • Echoes what others say (echolalia) without regular spontaneous speech

  • Demonstrates speech that sounds mechanical, almost robotic

  • Uses limited or atypical facial expressions

  • Prefers to play alone or does not show interest in other children

  • May not enjoy cuddling or being touched, unless it is on his or her own terms

  • Displays repetitive body movements (hand flapping, spinning)

  • Fixates upon a single object, such as a spoon or book

  • Cannot tolerate change in routine or environment, such as a new toothbrush or a replacement for a lost toy

  • Increased or decreased sensitivity to sensory experiences (light, texture, sound, taste, smell, movement)

  • Lines items up or puts things in order repeatedly

  • Has excessive tantrums and is difficult to console

  • Walks on tiptoes

  • Unusual eating & sleeping habits

  • Gives unrelated answers to questions

The presence of any one or a combination of these early signs does not necessarily mean that your child has an autism spectrum disorder.  If your child demonstrates any of these signs, please discuss your concerns with your pediatrician and ask for an autism screening.
Approved by Renaissance Learning Center and Renaissance Learning Academy, Jupiter, Florida