December 2, 2020

How do I know if my child has Autism? 

Hello and happy December! It’s hard to believe that we are in the last month of 2020, let here we are! In today’s post I’m going to share with you some red flags you should be looking out for as your child develops. 

Due to the pandemic,  some kids have been missing their regular doctor’s appointments. A delay in development is something that we screen for when your child comes in for their well visit. It’s also the time that we check in on your child’s growth and weight gain and discuss healthy habits and behaviors. 

If I had to give you one piece of advice, this would be it….TRUST YOURSELF! You have no idea how many times mom’s come in almost embarrassed to voice a concern they have for their child. Never, I repeat, never  be embarrassed about voicing a concern. I would much rather you bring it up and discuss it and get reassurance and/or guidance that get misinformation on the internet or from friends and family. 

When it comes to development there is a wide range of normal in children and this can bring up a lot of feelings of concern as you compare your child to a cousin, a friend or a neighbor. Instead of doing this, I encourage you to write down ALL of the things your child is actually doing. We are all busy, and it’s hard to really remember EVERYTHING your child is doing when you make it to your doctor’s appointment. This is especially important for first time parents, since they have nothing to compare their observations to, and delays can be missed. 

In 2020, the CDC reported a rate of 1 in 54 children as diagnosed with Autism. The actual cause of Autism still remains unknown but there are countless studies focusing on many things such as genetics and environmental factors. It’s no wonder that so many parents worry about their child being autistic when they start to notice delays. 

Today I am going to share with you the red flags that we pediatricians look for when diagnosing Autism. Remember that just because your child displays some of these behaviors, it DOES NOT mean that your child is Autistic. If you find yourself checking off several of these boxes, then schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss the results. Early intervention in kids with delays is the most successful way that we can improve independence, social skills and help with developmental progress.

Autism is a social disorder. Below you will find 3 categories: Social Differences, Communication Differences, and Behavioral Differences. Take a moment to look through the lists to see if your child is showing some of these characteristics. But remember! Many children that do not have autism may show some of these behaviors too. This is not a diagnostic tool.  

Social Differences 

  • Not interested in showing something to you or sharing in an experience. 
  • Doesn’t point at something when they need something or see something
  • Doesn’t make eye contact or keep eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to a parent’s smile or other facial expressions
  • Not interested in what a parent is looking at or pointing to 
  • Often their facial expressions do not go with what is expected in a certain situation
  • They have a hard time looking at someone’s facial expressions and body language and understanding what they mean 
  • Doesn’t show interest or concern in other people
  • Not interested in making friends or unable to make friends
  • Seems as though they prefer to play alone

Communication Differences 

  • Often repeat what others say without understanding what they are saying or what it means. (like an echo or a parrot)
  • Doesn’t respond when their name is called
  • Doesn’t point at things to show needs or share things with others
  • Doesn’t say single words by 16 months of age
  • Doesn’t seem like they are interested in communication
  • Doesn’t start a conversation and/or can’t contine one
  • Doesn’t pretend play or use toys to represent real life situations. 
  • May have an amazing memory. Can recite numbers, letter, songs, or focus on a specific topic and become very knowledgeable about it. 
  • Some kids who had language, can lose language or other social milestones around 15-24 months. (Not all kids with autism have this but some do)

Behavioral Differences (Repetitive & Obsessive Behaviors)

  • Has a difficult time with change or going from one activity to another
  • Often will line things up or repeat certain behaviors over and over
  • Can be very sensitive to texture, light, sounds, touch or smells or the opposite- not sensitive at all. 
  • Some kids will twirl their fingers, do strange movements with their fingers around their eyes, rock back and forth, walk on their toes and flag their hands.
  • Doesn’t play with a toy the way it is intended to be played
  • Will not use a toothbrush to brush their teeth or a hair brush to brush their hair. May not know to put sunglasses on eyes. 


Remember not all children with Autism present with the same behaviors. Please resist the temptation to compare your child to other kids when you are concerned. Write down your observations (all of them!) and take them to your pediatrician. 

Your pediatrician is taking precautions to ensure the safety of your child in the office during this pandemic. Don’t delay your well visit, stay up to date with your child’s vaccines, and write down all of your concerns (behavioral, nutrition, sleep, emotional, so you don’t forget when you come in!) And as always, please trust your gut. No one knows your child better than you. 

If your child does have Autism, please don’t lose hope. No one has a crystal ball to know what your child will or won’t be able to do. Focus on daily progress and please don’t forget to take care of yourself.

And if no one has told you lately, Thank you for everything you do for your kids every day! I see you and I know that even on the days that you really just want to stay in bed, you get up and you show up and you take care of your kids. For this I thank you! Have a beautiful week!

Stay Healthy!


Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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