Early Signs of Autism in Newborns and Infants

Apr 13, 2024 | 0 comments

There is a multitude of evidence that the earlier we can catch the warning signs for Autism, GDD (Global Developmental Delay) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the better the outcomes for the child and family. Knowing some of the early signs of autism in newborns and infants can help you feel informed and confident in your decisions as a parent or caregiver.

But if this is your first child you may not have an idea already of what typical development milestones should look like. Alternately, if it isn’t your first child, there are other parents, facebook groups and/or family members that, although well-meaning, may dismiss your parental concerns or give you stories of children that were delayed and turned out fine.

It is important to trust your gut instinct and not be dismissed by family or even health professionals when you feel something just isn’t as it should be.

It is important to note that these are just early indicators of autism, GDD or ADHD and may not necessarily mean that the child will be diagnosed with a condition or delay. They give us a window into what is happening in the baby’s nervous system so that we are able to monitor their development.

So What Are Some of The Early Signs of Autism?

First Sign of Autism: Engagement

We now know that we can detect developmental delays by 3-6 months. By 3 months a baby will be able to regulate their body in order to gain their parent’s attention. They will hold eye gaze with another and smile. During feeding a baby will look up at their parent. If a baby is not holding eye contact, smiling and enjoying their parent then this could be a first sign. 

baby showing first signs of autism through engaging with their parent

Another Early Indicator of Autism in Newborns Through Engagement:

We may notice that a baby is unable to soothe themselves and become generally fussy without a medical cause (GERD etc). Alternatively, they may be such a good baby that they never say a peep because they are ‘in their own world’. There should be a back and forth synchronicity to interaction between baby and their caregivers. 

First Sign of Autism: Motor

Additionally, by 6 months, a baby should have head control in order to look around for their parent so that they can engage with them by cooing or gurgling. If the baby is ‘floppy’ it tells us that the motor system is not coming online as it should. We may see some subtle differences in posture such as the baby has different rolling patterns than typical. They also have a bit more difficulty than usual in moving their body from one position to another i.e. sitting to laying down or other atypical behaviour. 

showing baby on belly not a first sign of autism is motor

First Sign of Autism: Sensory

A baby may hyperfocus on items such as shiny objects, bright windows or fans. They may become distressed by sensory experiences such as looking at faces, loud noises, being out in public (more so than a typically developing babies). This sensory sensitivity can be a sign of autism.

a first sign of autism is sensory such as baby focusing on a fan

Steps to Take When You See Early Indicators of Autism in Infants 

What can you do if you are concerned? Firstly, see your GP who can refer you to a Developmental Paediatrician for assessment. Alternately, you can obtain a plan from your GP to visit an Occupational Therapist. The Occupational Therapist will assess your child and should we find that your child is having challenges in their development, we will commence early intervention strategies and refer you to a Paediatrician for screening and monitoring. 

Contact us at our Occupational Therapy Clinic in Parramatta, NSW if you’d like an assessment or want to discuss best next steps.

Reference: Profectum, 29 May 2019, Connecting Movement and Sensation to Developmental Challenges in ASD, Presenter: Elizabeth Osten, MS, OTR/L, accessed 9 June 2019