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What is autism and what are the first signs?

little boy playing with wooden blocks

Key points:
1. Autism involves brain development differences and is influenced by genetic and environmental factors, excluding upbringing and vaccines as causes.
2. Shared traits among individuals with autism encompass communication difficulties, social interaction challenges, repetitive behaviors, and preferences for routines.
3. Autism is part of a spectrum (ASD), including types like Asperger Syndrome with similarities and differences in routines, socialization, and learning disabilities.
4. Early autism detection is essential for addressing developmental milestones by age 12 months, indicating social responsiveness, communication, and behavior patterns. Consulting a doctor for evaluation and guidance is recommended if concerned.

Autism is a developmental disorder that comes down to differences in an individual’s brain development. The causes of autism are still unknown, but it is believed to be due to several factors, including genetic components and environmental factors. Now, it is important to emphasize that upbringing and vaccines aren’t among the factors that cause autism.

Every person with autism is different; however, there are common features that unify them. These characteristics include social and emotional traits, like: difficulty to communicate, to interact with others, to make friends, to perceive what others feel, to make eye contact, to detect sarcasm, among others. It is also common for an individual with autism to perform repetitive movements and seek routines. Certain noises or subtle changes can bother them, they may have a strong interest in a particular topic and may even be experts on it, but, on the other hand, they may have a learning disability.


Autism is so broad that it is part of a spectrum called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Within this range there are different types of autism, among them there is the Asperger Syndrome, which has similarities with autism in the need for routines, frustration over changes, difficulty to socialize, and a passion for a particular topic. The main difference is that there is no learning disability.

The diagnosis of autism often comes late, since most of the time it is not detected until a later age. However, experts have noticed that early detection is extremely beneficial because steps can be taken to help foster a greater adaptability and independence. We know that every child is different and develops at his or her own pace, but there are certain developmental milestones that, if they are not met at certain age, may raise a flag. Below are a few signs related to autism. These milestones are normally reached by the time a child is 12 months old. If your little one presents most of them and you are worried about his development, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor and talk to him or her about it.

Key signs after 12 months:

  • Doesn’t respond to his name.
  • Doesn’t socialize reciprocally with caregivers.
  • Gets mad when small changes occur.
  • Rocks his body, flaps his hands, or turns in circles.
  • Prefers to play by himself.
  • Avoids or resists eye contact.
  • Doesn’t show much facial expression.
  • Doesn’t point to objects or responds when you point to an object.
  • Uses little or no gestures, like to say “hello” or “goodbye”.
  • Doesn’t answer or understand simple instructions like: “Show me the cat.”
  • If he babbles, he doesn’t seem to be having a conversation.
  • If he speaks, he talks in a robotic voice.
  • He can’t say any words.
  • There is a loss of milestones that were already achieved.
  • Doesn’t look for things that he sees you hiding.
  • Has obsessive interests (for instance, he can spend a lot of time watching objects that turn around, like a fan or toy tires).
  • Plays with objects in the same way every time, and often shows interest in only part of them (for example, he may play with a toy with lights specifically only by turning it on or off).
  • Tends to follow a routine.

These are just some signs of autism. If your child meets some of them it doesn’t necessarily mean he has autism. However, if you are worried that your son shows most of them, it’s best to contact your pediatrician and talk to him or her about it. That way, together you can see if your child’s development is on track or if it’s a good idea for him to be evaluated by a specialist.

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