Autism affects all areas of life, but most profoundly it can be defined as a condition in which shared attention is extremely challenging.
Until the age of 18-24 months, most autistic children seem to develop typically. They reach the major milestones of development in a similar age and show barely any signs that anything is out of the ordinary with their development.
The reasons for that are unclear. Is autism a disease that only sets off at 18 months? Is something in the early medical history of the child responsible for the development of autism? Or perhaps, it is only when the child has reached the age when the milestones of speech, language and complex communication are expected to be apparent, that the autism finally reveals itself in the child even though it might have been there since birth.
There are, however, some very subtle signs that may be found in infants as early as 6 moths of age that are early signs of autism.
In the article “Autism: Recognizing the Signs in Young Children”, Jennifer Humphries describes these early signs to be expressed in three areas of early development:
Gaze is different in quality - brief and from the corner of the eye
Hearing seems to be impaired even though it isn’t when phsycially examined. i.e. the child will not respond to their name, or may not respond to certain noises and sounds. This is believed to be caused by the sensory needs of the infant - blocking out noises that are perceived as threatening, or the infant is blocking out sounds that are not interesting.
Social Development and Play is different, i.e.: the infant is not interested in or enjoy games that most babies find pleasurable and fascinating, does not respond to facial cues, etc.
Most autistic children get diagnosed around the age of three. It is not until about 18 months of age that the symptoms of autism become apparent.