DSM-IV criteria for autism are based on the absence or delay of certain developmental milestones. There is great diversity in the skills and behaviors of individuals diagnosed as autistic, and physicians will often arrive at different conclusions about the appropriate diagnosis.

Nevertheless, professionals within pediatric care and development often look for early indicators of autism in order to initiate treatment as early as possible. Some of these indicators include:

  • Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by 1 year of age
  • Does not have "joint regard," in other words the ability attend to something at the request of someone else
  • Does not speak single words by 16 months
  • Does not combine two words by 2 years
  • Does not respond to name

Other indicators:

  • Lacks or avoids eye contact
  • Does not play with toys functionally
  • Excessively lines up toys or other objects, or may engage in other obsessive/compulsive behaviors
  • Is attached to one particular toy or object
  • Does not smile (socially, but may smile during periods of self-stimulatory behavior)
  • Engages in perseverative and/or self-stimulatory behaviors
  • Has tactile defensiveness

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