How to Detect Early Signs of Autism

Written By: Care New England on April 11, 2019

Did you know early behavioral symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can appear in children as young as 12 to 18 months of age?

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), early diagnosis of and interventions for autism are more likely to have major long-term positive effects on symptoms and later skills.

Behaviors that parents should pay attention to are:

  • Problems with eye contact
  • Not responding to her or his name
  • Problems following another person's gaze or pointed finger to an object or toy to share interest (or "joint attention")
  • Poor skills in pretend play and imitation
  • Problems with developing gestures such as giving, showing, and pointing to direct another person’s attention


Stephen Sheinkopf, PhD, a psychologist at the Women & Infants Center for Children and Families and the director of the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART) says, "Early and appropriate diagnoses can help families connect to resources and supports for their child and for themselves. By completing a full clinical evaluation for ASD, the family will receive results from a variety of social, developmental, and cognitive assessments. Having more information about a child’s specific strengths and needs can help therapists work together with families to develop meaningful, individualized goals. Appropriate assessment can also help families connect to resources in the community."


Early intervention programs often include:

  • Family training
  • Speech therapy
  • Hearing impairment services
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutrition services

Families are encouraged to talk with their pediatrician about any concerns they may have. Each state is required to have early intervention programs for children diagnosed with developmental delays or disabilities, including ASD. Resources at Care New England include outpatient resources at the Center for Children and Families and the New England Pediatric Institute of Neurodevelopment (NEPIN).

If you are looking for additional resources, Dr. Sheinkopf leads programs at RI-CART whose mission is to support families by promoting collaborative, cutting-edge research, improving health care and support services, and providing data-driven education and advocacy. More information can be found online at