Supporting families impacted by autism.
Screening & Diagnosis

What are the signs of autism?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program to assist in the early detection and intervention of Autism Spectrum Disorder. From birth to 5 years of age, your child should reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, act and move. The “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program helps track your child’s development, and provides guidance to help you act early if you have a concern. One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and watch what developmental milestones your child should be reaching.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has no biological diagnostic test to detect autism. Using formal screening tools such as looking for childhood development milestones and several other diagnostic tests and tools can help. Using free online tools such as the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) can help when determining whether seeing a professional is an option. Diagnosing autism at an early stage is important when trying to navigate your child’s education. If your child isn’t reaching a majority of the developmental milestones below, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Screening & Diagnosis

Learn the Signs. Act Early.


Most babies do:

  • Calms down when spoken to or picked up
  • Looks at your face
  • Makes sounds other than crying
  • Reacts to loud sounds
  • Watches you as you move
  • Holds head up when on tummy
  • Moves both arms and both legs
  • Opens hands briefly


Most babies do:

  • Smiles on own to get attention
  • Chuckles when you try to make them laugh
  • Makes sounds like "oooo", "aahh"
  • Makes sounds back when talking
  • Holds head steady w/o support
  • Uses arms to swing toys
  • Holds toys in their hand


Most babies do:

  • Knows familiar people
  • Likes to look at self in mirror
  • Laughs
  • Puts things in mouth to explore them
  • Reaches to grab a toy they want
  • Rolls from tummy to back
  • Leans on hands to support sitting


Most babies do:

  • Is shy, clingy, or fearful around strangers
  • Shows several facial experssions
  • Looks when you call their name
  • Reacts when you leave
  • Makes several different sounds
  • Looks for objects when dropped
  • Sitting position on their own
  • Sits without support
  • Moves things from one hand to other


Most babies do:

  • Plays games with you
  • Calls a parent "mama" or "dada"
  • Understands "no"
  • Pulls up to stand
  • Puts something in a container, like a block in a cup
  • Walks, holding on to furniture
  • Drinks from a cup without a lid, as you hold it


Most babies do:

  • Copies other children while playing
  • Claps when excited
  • Shows you an object they like
  • Hugs stuffed dolls or other toys
  • Follows simple directions
  • Tries to use things the right way, like a phone, cup, or book
  • Takes a few steps on their own


Most babies do:

  • Points to show you something
  • Puts hands out to be washed
  • Gets dressed with little help
  • Copies you doing chores
  • Walks without assistance
  • Follows 1 step directions
  • Scribbles
  • Feeds themself with fingers
  • Climbs on and off couch/chair


Most babies do:

  • Notices emotions of others
  • Looks at your face for a reaction
  • Says at least 2 words together
  • Points to things in a book "Where is the bear?"
  • Plays with more than one toy
  • Kicks a ball
  • Runs
  • Eats with a spoon


Most babies do:

  • Plays next to/with other children
  • Follows simple routines like "clean up time"
  • Says about 50 words
  • Says words like "I", "me", or "we"
  • Simple problem-solving skills
  • Uses hands to twist/push buttons
  • Can take some clothes off
  • Jumps off the ground

To see the CDC’s Developmental Milestones up to 5 years old click here. The CDC also has a milestone checklist and mobile app to help parents track their child’s progression. 


“According to Autism Speaks, early intervention affords the best opportunity to support health development.”

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