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Recognizing early signs of autism spectrum disorder

HomeNews and Events > Recognizing early signs of autism spectrum disorder
Caroline DiBattisto, MD, developmental pediatrics, Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital encourages community members to recognize the importance of early diagnosis in treatment of autism spectrum disorder.

“Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction, along with restrictive, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests and activities,” said Caroline DiBattisto, MD, developmental pediatrics physician with Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital.  “Early diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder is extremely important. If a parent has a concern about their child’s development or behavior, they should discuss it with their child’s primary care provider as soon as possible.”

Some early signs of autism spectrum disorder in babies and toddlers include:

  • Doesn’t make eye contact
  • Doesn’t smile when smiled at
  • Doesn’t respond to his or her name, or to the sound of a familiar voice
  • Doesn’t follow objects visually
  • Doesn’t point or wave goodbye
  • Doesn’t follow the movement when you point things out
  • Doesn’t make noises to get your attention
  • Doesn’t initiate or respond to cuddling
  • Doesn’t imitate your movements or facial expressions
  • Doesn’t reach out to be held
  • Doesn’t play with others or share interest in enjoyment
  • Doesn’t ask for help or make other basic requests

The following delays warrant an immediate evaluation by your child’s pediatrician: 

  • By 6 months: No big smiles or warm expressions
  • By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or facial expressions
  • By 12 months: Lack of response to name, no babbling, no back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving
  • By 16 months: No spoken words
  • By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases that don’t involve imitating or repeating


  • About 1 percent of the world has autism spectrum disorder (CDC, 2016)
  • Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls)(CDC, 2016)

DiBattisto added, “If you have concerns about your child, contact your child’s pediatrician to determine whether further evaluation is needed. Each child is unique. When there is a diagnosis of autism, early intervention can lead to the best outcomes.”

About Palmetto Health Children's Hospital

Palmetto Health Children's Hospital is South Carolina’s first children's hospital and has more than 150,000 children’s visits each year. It offers more than 30 subspecialties to meet the unique health care needs of children and has central South Carolina's only Children’s Emergency Center. With more than 350 professionals who work exclusively with children, Palmetto Health Children's Hospital has a team of highly skilled and trained experts unmatched by any hospital in the Midlands. Palmetto Health Children's Hospital is the place to go for children's medical care, because the best care matters.

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