Checklist: Signs and symptoms of autism in babies and toddlers

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Signs and symptoms of autism in babies: How did you know Charlie was autistic?

I often get messages asking me questions… How did you know he had autism? What are symptoms of autism in babies? What was Charlie doing that worried you? I was part of an online mom group who all had babies born in the Spring of 2013. Our babies were close in age so it was fun to follow everyone’s development. Every Sunday we had a “Brag Thread” in which every mom commented something new their children started doing that week. Week after week I read that thread without having anything to contribute. At first I wasn’t too worried because all children develop at their own pace and also because Charlie was exposed to two languages in the home (French and English), which we used to excuse his slow progress with speech.

Biggest autism sign: Speech regression

Around 20 months in I started questioning if something more was going on. Not only Charlie wasn’t progressing but he was regressing, and that was the biggest red flag. He had a dozen of words and he lost them starting around 18 months. So, a friend of mine recommended we spend about 15 minutes taking the M-CHAT questionnaire, an autism screening tool for children between 15 months and 36 that you can easily take online. The M-CHAT is scored from 0 to 20, with each point scored equalling a warning sign for autism. Scores from 0-2 are low risk, 3-7 medium risk, and 8-20 are high risk. Charlie scored 18 out 20. We were referred to a developmental pediatrician who confirmed our worries. At 22 months, Charlie was diagnosed with ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder. These are the warning signs of autism we noticed between 18 months and 22 months. Keep in mind that all children are different, and all children on the autism spectrum are unique. There’s a saying about just this that goes, if you know one child with autism, well, you know one child with autism.

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Signs and symptoms of autism in babies:


    • Delayed speech
    • Speech regression
    • Does not answer to his name
    • Does not greet us, his parents, when we come home
    • Can not follow directions


    • Ignores other children
    • Likes to be alone
    • Avoids eye contact
    • Is in his own world
    • Sometimes gets scared or bothered for no apparent reason and covers his eyes or ears

Unusual behaviors:

    • Lines up his toys
    • Can occupy himself for extended periods of time
    • Focuses on details of his toys and misses their broader purpose (just spins the wheel on a car)
    • Gets upset by minor changes
    • Strange sleep habits (sleeps on floor, etc…)
    • Gets frustrated easily
    • Has obsessive interests (balls, wheels, light switches)
    • Play with toys the exact same way for long periods of time (ie: pouring water from one cup to another) 
    • Likes routines 
    • Gets “stuck” on things and can’t move to other activities


    • Hand flapping
    • Covers his eyes/ears when bothered by something
    • Picky eating
    • Stopped nursing at 2 months and always had a bad latch
    • Very attached to his silk pillow and security blanket
    • Sensitive to texture, didn’t like walking on the grass (cannot sleep without his silk pillowcase)
    • Throws violent temper tantrums and meltdowns 
    • Is very independent for his age


If you have concerns about your child development, here are a few easy things you can do:

1. Take the M-CHAT online

2. Take the ASQ online

3. Bring a copy of the results to your pediatrician

4. Call Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) in your state, it’s a mostly/sometimes free service for children up to 3 years old. Google “Early Childhood Intervention + (your state)”



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  • Reply
    2022-04-03 at 11:54 PM

    Wondering how he would have scored on the MCHAT at 16 months . You say he scores 18-20 at 18 months . There are so many more signs than verbal . Wondering about joint attention, pointing, reciprocal eye contact, name response etc . Some of the “signs you list” such as hand flapping can also be developmentally appropriate under 3 – hence the reason why the MCHAT doesn’t ask. Thank you for sharing. Just wondering about actual norm based signs like showing objects etc that the MChAt addresses. Autism is a social communication disorder. Wondering what signs of social communication delay you saw before language regression .

    • Reply
      2022-04-04 at 2:49 PM

      He didn’t point, didn’t show us “cool” things he found, no make-believe/pretend play, no interest in other children, no answer to his name, no eye contact, unable to imitate, no joint attention… At 9, most of these still apply actually.

  • Reply
    Madeleine Love
    2023-10-04 at 6:19 AM

    Hi Eileen, thank you for such a thoughtful reflective piece on Charlie’s diagnostic journey. I really admire you as a family and the positive work you do advocating for your son. I suppose following on from the previous commenter, I was curious if in retrospect you noticed the lack of social communication skills prior to Charlie’s language regression at 18 months? Did he ever at any point demonstrate joint attention, verbal/gesture imitation, decent eye contact or pointing/following your point or interest in other children? Or where these skills that he lost alongside his language regression? Thank you for your time.

    • Reply
      2023-10-04 at 6:20 PM

      He did, yes. Joint attention and eye contact. He never had any interest in other children and never pointed.

  • Reply
    Madeleine Love
    2023-10-04 at 6:20 AM

    Addendum: As well as name response

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