Is this an early sign of autism?
David Curran, MD, a pediatrician and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Cardon Children's Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz.
Question: My 2-year-old son refuses to make eye contact with other people and doesn't socialize with the kids at his preschool. I'm concerned this behavior is more than just toddler shyness. Could he be showing signs of autism, and if so, what can I do to help him?
Answer: While some of the behaviors you describe could be signs of autism, the most important question to ask is whether this behavior is new, and if you've noticed a change in your son.
In children who are 18 to 24 months old, we sometimes observe a sudden shift in development that can be an early indication of autism. We look for changes in the way a child interacts with others and behaviors that are regressive, such as a decline in language or vocabulary, an unwillingness to listen when called and, most importantly, refusing to point to objects of interest as a method of communicating.
If the behaviors you describe are new for your son, your pediatrician can review a set of questions with you to determine if autism might be a factor. This screening tool, which assesses issues ranging from how your son plays with his toys to what he does in front of a group, is an important first step in evaluating the situation.
In general, the most important thing parents can do to monitor a child's development is to talk with their pediatrician during well-child visits, especially at the 15- and 18-month appointments. When parents openly share observations and ask questions about developmental milestones, their pediatrician can determine if additional evaluation is necessary.