The main signs and symptoms of autism involve problems with communication, social interactions, and stereotyped or repetitive behavior and restricted interests. According to the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD), red flags for parents of young children may include some or many of the behaviors within the following categories:



Social Features



Repetitive Behavior

Other Characteristics


Does not respond to his/her name by 12 months of age


Cannot explain what he/she wants


Language skills are slow to develop or speech is delayed


Doesn't follow directions


Seems to hear sometimes, but not other times


Doesn't point or wave "bye-bye"


Used to say a few words or babble, but now does not


Doesn't smile when smiled at


Has poor eye contact


Seems to prefer to play alone


Seems to be in his/her "own world"


Seems to tune people out


Is not interested in other children


Doesn't point out interesting objects by 14 months of age


Doesn't like to play "peek-a-boo"



Gets "stuck" doing the same things over and over and can't move on to other things


Shows unusual attachments to toys, objects, or routines (for example, always holding a string or having to put on socks before pants)


Spends a lot of time lining things up or putting things in a certain order


Repeats words or phrases (sometimes called echolalia [pronounced ek-oh-LEY-lee-uh])


Doesn't play "make believe" or pretend by 18 months of age


Has odd movement patterns


Doesn't play with toys the way other children do


Walks on his/her toes


Doesn't imitate silly faces


Seems to stare at nothing or wander around with no purpose


Seems overly sensitive to noise



The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) is a validated developmental screening tool for toddlers between 16 and 30 months of age. It is designed to identify young children who may benefit from a more thorough developmental and autism evaluation. To take the quiz, go to


It’s important to remember that because the symptoms of autism fall on a spectrum, there is considerable variation in the number and severity that any given child or adult may exhibit. As children grow older symptoms may change in how they are expressed, or improve with treatments.