California researchers have found that parents typically do not notice the early symptoms that may be associated with autism.
The study followed babies from age 6 months to 3 years, and found "a steady loss of sociability and responsiveness in the babies who would progress to an autism diagnosis." The loss of social skills in the babies who would be autistic appeared in a variety of guises, such as "reduced rates of face-gazing, vocalizations and social engagement." These behaviors were apparently obvious to researchers, but not to the parents.
The study also calls into question parental assertions that a children's autism "came on suddenly." Researchers found that the children they studied who were later diagnosed as autistic had displayed signs early on.
What red flags should you be looking for? According to Autism Speaks, parents should look for the following signs:
* No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by age 6 months or older
* No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by age 9 months or older
* No babbling by age 12 months
* No back-and-forth gestures -- such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving -- by age 12 months
* No words by age 16 months
* No meaningful two-word phrases (without imitating or repeating) by age 24 months
* Any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age
Of course, always visit your pediatrician if you are concerned that your child may be showing any of these signs.