Understanding five red flags for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can help you identify potential problems early in a child’s life, giving them a better chance at healthy development. When action is taken early, children afflicted with autism symptoms are often much better able to overcome common difficulties and integrate into society more successfully. That is why it is so important to know how to spot the early indicators, and these red flags will help you do that.

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1. They Don’t Respond to Their Name

In general, babies learn to recognize their name and will acknowledge it by turning their head or with some other obvious gesture. In children diagnosed with autism, four out of five did not fit this behavior. This means that some children with autism will still respond to their name, and some without will not respond, but this is one of the earliest strong indicators. Research suggests that this particular behavior is linked to the language challenges that often accompany autism.

2. They Don’t Imitate Behavior

Imitation is another part of early social behavior. Infants usually imitate others. From matching a smile to clapping, very basic forms of emotional expression usually start as plain imitations. These imitations can be of parents, siblings or nearby infants; the source doesn’t matter too much. A child who is struggling to develop socially will struggle even at the earliest stages, and this is where you will see stronger signs of that struggle. Without imitation, they may have difficulty expressing anything at all, even basic happiness or unhappiness, which ties directly to red flag number three.

3. They Display Less Emotion

As you can see, a child battling ASD will have many difficulties expressing even basic emotions. This doesn’t indicate that they are without emotion, only that their ability to communicate is encumbered. The tricky thing is that this won’t necessarily translate to less crying as a baby. Instead, the easiest way to detect this sign is through empathy. Typically infants will respond to other infants in kind. This is why one crying kid can set off a chain reaction throughout a nursery, but crying isn’t the only contagious emotion. Smiling, laughing and any other display can also be empathized or mimicked. A child on the autism spectrum will be much less responsive to these “contagious” displays of emotion.

4. They Don’t Engage in Joint Attention

Joint attention is a term that refers to “hey, look!” moments. A child goes through intense discovery many times a day, and that discovery is often exciting. Typically, in that excitement, they will want to share their findings. This leads to all of those moments where they clamber for your attention while pointing at the source of fascination. Circling back to communication struggles, autism inhibits this expression of discovery, making a child far less likely to engage in this behavior.

5. They Pretend Less

Starting at about the age of two, pretend play becomes a major part of a child’s day. While early stages of pretend can start sooner, this is usually when imagination starts to expand. In pretend play, an ordinary object can be anything. In cases of autism, children will still play with toys or objects, but imagination plays a much smaller roll. Toys and objects will be used for their basic intended purposes, rather than becoming representative of a greater imaginative idea. This often leads to more repetitive actions, which is one of the easier ways to identify this flag.

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Keep in mind that these indicators are fairly unreliable in a baby’s first year. Every child develops at a different pace, so take the timelines as guidelines rather than absolute. Still, as a child grows, these five red flags for autism can enable you to get effective help early, which is the best thing that can happen for children with these challenges.