Developmental Milestones – Early signs

Developmental Milestones

Developmental milestones are physical or behavioral signs of development of infants and children that emerge over time, forming the building blocks for growth and continued learning. Milestones help to understand how a child learns and grows. There are three broad stages of development: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence organized around the five primary tasks of development in each stage:  cognitive, physical, social and emotional, and language and communication.

The boundaries of each stage are not written in stone. Every child is different which means that each child or young adult learns and behaves in different ways, and each may have their own specific challenges that may need to be addressed and treated. These milestones are guidelines that may or may not indicate an issue.  

Early Signs

Consult with your child’s pediatrician if your child doesn’t meet these specific developmental milestones, or if they had met them, but lost them later:

  • Smiles by 6 months
  • Imitates facial expressions or sounds by 9 months
  • Coos or babbles by 12 months
  • Gestures (points or waves) by 14 months
  • Speaks with single words by 16 months and uses phrases of two words or more by 24 months
  • Plays pretend or “make-believe” by 18 months

A child with ASD may have a hard time interacting with others. Problems with social skills are some of the most common signs. If your child is on the spectrum, they might show some social symptoms by the time they're 8-10 months old. These may include any of the following:

  • They don't respond to their name by their first birthday.
  • Playing, sharing, or talking with other people don’t interest them.
  • Prefers to be alone.
  • Avoids or rejects physical contact.
  • Avoids eye contact.
  • Don’t like being comforted.
  • Don’t understand emotions -- their own or others’.
  • Don't stretch out their arms to be picked up or guided with walking

Many children may have some problems with communication, including these:

  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Flat, robotic speaking voice, or singsong voice
  • Echolalia (repeating the same phrase over and over)
  • Problems with pronouns (saying “you” instead of “I,” for example)
  • Not using or rarely using common gestures (pointing or waving), and not responding to them
  • Inability to stay on topic when talking or answering questions
  • Not recognizing sarcasm or joking

Children with ASD also act in ways that seem unusual or have interests that aren’t typical. Examples of this can include:

  • Repetitive behaviors like hand-flapping, rocking, jumping, or twirling
  • Constant moving (pacing) and “hyper” behavior
  • Fixations on certain activities or objects
  • Specific routines or rituals (and getting upset when a routine is changed, even slightly)
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch, light, and sound
  • Not taking part in “make-believe” play or imitating others’ behaviors
  • Fussy eating habits
  • Lack of coordination, clumsiness
  • Impulsiveness (acting without thinking)
  • Aggressive behavior, both with self and others
  • Short attention span

Brain Development

child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three—producing more than a million neural connections each second and developing more than at any other time of life. 

Early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life. The quality of a child’s experiences in the first few years of life – positive or negative – helps shape how their brain develops.

A major element in the developmental process centers on interaction between children and their parents and other caregivers in the family. The brain is a highly integrated organ, and its multiple functions operate in coordination with one another.

Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities, and together they are the bricks and mortar of brain architecture.

The emotional and physical health, social skills, and cognitive-linguistic capacities that emerge in the early years are all important for success in school, the workplace, and in the larger community. 


Observation & Understanding

A parent or guardian is in the best position to spot early warning signs of ASD, having learned and observed the child’s unique behaviors since birth.

Next comes the pediatrician or family physician who may observe an array of developmental delays — social, emotional, and cognitive milestones. 

If ASD is diagnosed in infancy, treatment can take full advantage of a young brain’s remarkable flexibility. 

The autism diagnosis age and intensity of autism’s early signs vary. Early signs focus on the absence of typical behaviors as opposed to the presence of atypical ones. Some infants may show hints in their first months. Generally, symptoms of ASD often become evident between 12-18 months. Within this time frame, ABA therapy alongside play therapy may help to rewire the brain and reverse the symptoms.