Can you S.P.O.T. the Early Signs of Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) now affects 1 in 36 children in the United States, including those of every race, gender, and age. Studies show that nearly 80%–90% of parents saw signs of ASD in their child by 24 months, and that early intervention can have a positive impact on a child’s long-term success.

Anyone can help S.P.O.T. autism early by remembering these four signs:

  • S. Social Differences
    Avoiding eye contact; not showing interest in other children; unusual play patterns; no pretend play
  • P. Persistent Sensory Differences
    Persistently getting upset over everyday sounds; over or underreacting to lights, smells, tastes, textures
  • O. Obsessive/Repetitive Behaviors
    Flapping hands; rocking back & forth; having obsessive interests in a particular object or activity
  • T. Talking/Communication Delays
    Little to no babbling by 12 months; not saying a single word by 16 months; may appear deaf; loss of previous verbal skills or language

Did You Know? On average, parents of African American children noted concerns about their child’s development at 23 months old and told a professional six months later but didn’t receive an autism diagnosis until their child was more than 5 years old.

For a full list of early signs, download our S.P.O.T.
resource sheet by clicking the image below.

The M-CHAT Test is An Easy Screening Tool

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children receive ASD screening at 18 and 24 months of age. You can take the M-CHAT test here.

If the results indicate an issue, share it with your child’s physician.

Regardless of M-CHAT results, if you are concerned about your child’s development, speak to your child’s doctor, especially if your child is female.

Did You Know? Studies have shown that, on average, girls who have mild symptoms of autism are diagnosed two years later than boys.

Safety Education Is Important

Nearly half of children with autism are at risk of wandering away from safe supervision. The National Autism Association’s research on autism-related wandering/elopement found that the majority of wandering fatalities were caused by drowning with a disproportionate risk affecting both female and African American populations.

The earlier parents and teachers become aware of the dangers of wandering, the better the chances for prevention strategies and successful response.  

Water safety and swimming lessons are especially critical for these high-risk populations. To learn more about wandering prevention and response, download our free toolkit here. 

Did You Know? If a child with autism is ever missing, you should always search nearby water and active roadways first.

Next Steps

If your child is young and development concerns are verified, immediately seek early intervention services for your child.

  • Ask your child’s pediatrician to put you in touch with the early intervention system in your community or region
  • Contact the Pediatrics branch in a local hospital and ask where you should call to find out about early intervention services in your area.

For additional information on Early Intervention, visit ECTA Center. You can also download NAA’s First Signs, Next Steps Toolkit.


Did You Know? It is important to write down the names and phone numbers of everyone you talk to. You can use this Parent’s Record-Keeping Worksheet developed by NICHCY to keep track of this important information. Having this documentation available will be helpful to you later on.

Want to Help Your Community?

In response to average-age disparities in low-income, minority & female populations, NAA created the Spot ASD By 3 initiative. This early-signs education campaign is designed to help reduce average-age disparities in diagnosis, as well as provide early safety awareness.

It is our hope to reach as many underserved populations as possible, and with your help, we can provide this critical information to those in most need.

To help, simply distribute awareness sheets to your local community centers, churches, early learning centers, etc. The goal is to educate as many families as possible, as well as medical professionals. Remember: autism affects all races, genders, and ages.

Did You Know? To become a Spot ASD by 3 ambassador for your community or to donate printing services, you can write to us at If you would like to donate to this initiative, you can click here.