Dismiss Modal

autism awarenessBabies are social creatures. They are born with social instincts that do not need to be taught. Parents often monitor important milestones like crawling, walking and talking, but new parents may not be as aware of the social skills they should expect to see in their baby. These early social skills are an essential part of early brain development and are just as important as walking and talking.

Typical Development of Social Skills

Social skills start out very simple – like turning toward the sound of your voice around two months old – and become increasingly complex over the first two years of life. Babies should want to be around others and show pleasure in social interactions. They should readily look at your face and into your eyes. Babies should be interested in getting their parents’ attention. Over time, your baby will want you to pay attention to them while they explore items and will start to notice your reactions.

Babies develop a range of facial expressions like smiling and frowning, and it should be easy to get your baby to smile at you. As they approach 10-12 months of age, babies will start to make different noises to express their emotions. They will start to use gestures, such as pointing and showing you items, to share their interests. These social skills come automatically to babies and are part of normal brain development.

Early Signs of Autism

When a child is born with autism, that child does not have the same drive to be socially engaged. Babies with autism may not look at faces, respond to their parents’ voices or seek attention in the way that other babies do. They may not smile at their parents, share their interests, use gestures or include others in their exploration and play.

If babies and toddlers are not socially engaged, they miss out on critical experiences that help them develop language and cognitive skills. One of the main ways babies learn is by paying attention to their parents and noticing their speech and behavior.

For instance, one of the earliest ways babies learn language is by showing items to their parents. The parent will usually name the item, which helps the baby learn its label. A baby who does not share their interests in this way, or who does not pay attention to their parents’ speech, misses out on these critical building blocks for language. In fact, one of the earliest signs of autism parents tend to notice is that their child is not learning to talk.

Early Diagnosis Is Key

If young children with autism do not receive support in their learning, they may miss the window to develop important brain skills. The brain of infants and toddlers is specially wired for learning, and this ability lessens as children age. Missing these opportunities can have negative long-term effects on their brain development.

Early diagnosis and intervention for autism are the best tools to improve long-term outcomes. The goal of early intervention is to help a child keep up as closely as possible with their typically-developing peers. This is accomplished by helping the child to be more engaged with everyday learning opportunities.

The idea that there might be a problem in your child’s development is scary. Many parents and sometimes even medical professionals want to ‘wait and see’ whether these delays will resolve themselves. Waiting too long can unfortunately cause us to miss critical periods for intervention.

What To Do if You’re Concerned

If you are concerned your baby shows early signs of autism, don’t wait. Consider the following steps:

To learn about clinical neuropsychology and services available for individuals with autism at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, visit TMH.ORG/NeuroPsych.


Baby Navigator. (2022). Social communication growth charts. https://babynavigator.com/scgc/

Iverson, J. M., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2005). Gesture paves the way for language development. Psychological Science, 16(5), 367-371.

Zubler, J. M., Wiggins, L. D., Macias, M. M., Whitaker, T. M., Shaw, J. S., Squires, J. K., ... & Lipkin, P. H. (2022). Evidence-informed milestones for developmental surveillance tools. Pediatrics, 149(3).

Zwaigenbaum, L., Bauman, M. L., Choueiri, R., Kasari, C., Carter, A., Granpeesheh, D., & Natowicz, M. R. (2015). Early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder under 3 years of age: recommendations for practice and research. Pediatrics, 136(Supplement_1), S60-S81.

Content Apps ID
External ID
Integration Source
Integration Source URL

Allison Moltisanti, PhD

Clinical neuropsychologist at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare