Sunny Days Blog

Autism Red Flags: 5 Potential Developmental Delays


According to the CDC, approximately two percent of children have autism spectrum disorder.  As such, it’s important to learn the red flags and signs of the disorder so that you can take action promptly.  The earlier a child with autism receives intervention, the better the outcomes can be.  The purpose of this blog post is to describe the common red flags for autism so that you can increase your awareness.  Note that one red flag by itself is not necessarily indicative of autism, but if multiple red flags are noted autism spectrum disorder may be present.

5 Early Signs of Autism:

1. Difficulties with Eye Contact

Neurotypical children often look at, and make eye contact with, their family members and friends.  On the other hand, a child with autism spectrum disorder often avoids or has trouble maintaining eye contact with others.  It may be difficult to get a child with autism to look at you.

2. Limited Use of Gestures

Prior to speaking, many neurotypical children use gestures to convey information, such as clapping when they are happy or waving to say hello or goodbye.  However, children with autism spectrum disorder often are limited in their use of gestures and may not be able to use motions to convey meaningful thoughts.

3. Delayed Play Skills

As  neurotypical children grow, they develop a variety of play skills for imaginative purposes.  Based on the Westby Play Scale, children as young as 17 months begin using toys in pretend play.  Conversely, children with autism are often delayed in these skills and may not demonstrate imaginative play at all.  Instead, children with autism may use toys and objects in less typical ways, such as lining cars up in a row rather than pretending to drive them.

4. Delayed Speech and Language Development

Neurotypical children usually begin babbling around six months old, say their first word around 12 months old, and begin combining words into phrases by 24 months.  Additionally, neurotypical children understand and respond to their names from a very young age.  Children with autism, on the other hand, are typically delayed with these milestones.  

5. Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors

Many neurotypical children are flexible and varied in their behaviors, whereas children with autism often have restricted and repetitive behaviors.  For example, children with autism may demonstrate repetitive and seemingly unusual movements with their limbs or body.  Additionally, a child with autism may demonstrate an over- or under-reaction to different types of sensory input (e.g. sounds, sensations).


If your child is demonstrating any or all of the red flags listed above, it’s best to speak with your pediatrician to determine the appropriate next steps.  There are a number of therapeutic options available to assist your child, including but not limited to, speech therapy, applied behavior analysis, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.  Decisions for intervention should be based on the needs and interests of your family and child.  

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash


Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP

Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP is a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech-language pathologist and the owner and founder of Liberty Speech Associates LLC, a speech therapy practice located in Hackettstown, NJ. She is also the co-author of the book From Meals to Milestones: 35 Delicious Dishes to Encourage Child Development. For more information about Courtney, visit her website at