Developmental Milestones in Children with Autism

While children with autism can reach some developmental milestones at about the same time as other children, they can have delays in other areas. The development of language and social skills presents special problems to children with autism spectrum disorders 3. Yale School of Medicine points out that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening all children for ASDs at 18 and 24 months, whether or not they’ve reached basic developmental milestones within the timeline typical for children their age 1.

Social Delays

Although most babies will respond to their names by turning their heads by age 1, children who have an autism spectrum disorder usually don't 1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, failing to respond to his name could be a red flag that your child has an ASD 2. Most kids grow keenly curious about the world as they develop, but children with ASDs don't always seem interested in other people or aware of what is going on around them. They lack social skills and need help learning how to socially interact with others. Children on the autism spectrum may avoid making eye contact, typically prefer to play alone, won’t take turns or share with other children and may have problems understanding how other people feel.

Language Delays

The School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri -- Columbia points out that generally children begin saying their first words between 12 and 15 months old 3. A child who isn’t developing language by this time could have a problem. Once a doctor has ruled out hearing loss or other developmental problems, screening for an autism spectrum disorder is usually the next step in finding the cause for a child’s language delay 1. Other signs that a child may have a problem communicating include not using nonverbal cues such as gestures and not understanding what words mean.

Emotional Delays

At a time when other children are learning self-control, a child with an autism spectrum disorder may continue to act without thinking, have temper tantrums or become aggressive 1. Abnormal emotional responses are another sign. Although some of a child’s behaviors and emotional responses might seem unusual, points out that an early sign of autism is the lack of normal behaviors 4. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician if she seems detached or if she resists being held. There may be a problem if your baby fails to respond to the sound of your voice, doesn’t follow people or objects with her eyes or doesn’t look at you or smile back when you smile at her.


Children with autism spectrum disorders often have unusual behaviors and don't act appropriately for their age. The CDC says that although most children begin to pretend play by the time they are 18 to 24 months old, many autistic kids lack imaginative play skills. Often, children with ASDs display repetitive behaviors, become preoccupied with parts of toys, will only watch certain television programs and videos, or practice obsessive-compulsive, non-functional rituals or routines. Some autistic children imitate sounds, words or phrases they hear other people say, repeating them over and over again. Others engage in self-stimulatory behavior with repetitive motor movements like spinning in circles, flapping their hands or rocking their bodies back and forth. These can all be signs that a child has autism and should be evaluated by a health professional.