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Detect Autism Early

We naturally think of height and weight, but from birth to 5 years, your child should reach milestones in how he plays, learns, speaks and acts. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a developmental problem, even autism. The good news is, the earlier it's recognized the more you can do to help your child reach her full potential.

Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, and waving "bye bye" are called developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in playing, learning, speaking, behaving, and moving (crawling, walking, etc.). A developmental delay is when your child does not reach these milestones at the same time as other children the same age. If your child is not developing properly, there are things you can do that may help. Most of the time, a developmental problem is not something your child will "grow out of" on his or her own. But with help, your child could reach his or her full potential!

Learn the Signs of Healthy Child Development

Children develop at their own pace, so it's impossible to tell exactly when yours will learn a given skill. The developmental milestones below will give you a general idea of the changes you can expect as your child gets older, but don't be alarmed if your child takes a slightly different course.

Important milestones by the end of:

Act Early

What can I do if I think my child may have autism or another developmental problem?

Share your concerns with your child’s doctor. If you or your doctor think there could be a problem, ask for a referral to see a developmental pediatrician or other specialist, and contact your local early intervention agency (for children under 3) or public school (for children 3 and older) to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. To find out who to speak to in your area, you can contact the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities by logging on to or calling 1-800-695-0285. For more information about what to do if you are concerned about your child’s development visit "If you’re concerned" at If there is a problem, it is very important to get your child help as soon as possible.

Why is developmental screening important?

When a developmental delay is not recognized early, children must wait to get the help they need. This can make it hard for them to learn when they start school. In the United States, 13 percent of children have a developmental or behavioral disability such as autism, intellectual disability (also known as mental retardation), or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In addition, many children have delays in language or other areas. But, less than half of children with problems are identified before starting school. During this time, the child could have received help for these problems and may even have entered school more ready to learn.

Autism Spectrum Disorder-Specific Developmental Screening

Screening for autism spectrum disorders is one way to improve early identification of children who need more in-depth evaluation. All children should be screened for autism spectrum disorders at the 18-, 24-, and 30-month "well-child" visits. Additional screening may be needed if a child is at high risk for an autism spectrum disorder (has a sibling or parent with an autism spectrum disorder) or if the child is showing symptoms specific to autism.

Need more information about screening? These screening resources with links to autism screening tools and their descriptions from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) may help.

How can I help my child's development?

Proper nutrition, exercise, and rest are very important for children's health and development. Providing a safe and loving home and spending time with your child – playing, singing, reading, and even just talking – can also make a big difference in his or her development.

Need more information to help your child's development? This Web page provides some positive parenting tips with ideas for activities to do with your child and important child safety information.

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