Recognizing the red flags of autism and what to do next

Sheri A. Marino MA, CCC-SLP

The cause of autism, though still a mystery, is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Autism is thought to develop sometime during pregnancy and the first three years of life (early-onset autism) or, as in regressive or late-onset autism, some children appear to have developed normally until 12-24 months before losing skills. autism symptoms It is critical that attention is given to early markers that could potentially identify those children who are at high-risk for developing autism. These markers can be both developmental and medical in nature. Early markers could help identify the “vulnerable child” and could allow parents and physicians to limit further environmental exposures while also tracking development. In children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), these early signs often present in clusters but can be very difficult to recognize. Symptoms can easily be misunderstood and therefore may be overlooked by parents and underreported to physicians. Additionally, since some of the symptoms can be episodic, a physician is unlikely to observe them in a well-baby visit, thereby decreasing the chance of further evaluation.

Although many of these “red flags” can be seen in the neurotypical (typically developing) child, it is the timing and combination of these symptoms that can be cause for concern. Essentially, this is the very reason why making an early diagnosis is so very difficult to do. Parents should be aware of the most common developmental signs and medical comorbidities so they can describe behaviors and symptoms to pediatricians and medical specialists. Always consult your pediatrician and ask for referrals to specialists such as neurologists, allergy/immunologists, gastroenterologists, speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists. Early intervention is imperative for a positive prognosis.

So what are these early signs and symptoms and what should you do if you suspect your child may be exhibiting them?

  • neurological autism symptoms

    Neurodevelopmental Red Flags of Autism

    Speech and language, eye contact, poor sleepers, repetitive behaviors, sensory processing, regulatory problems, maladaptive behaviors, and low muscle tone.

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  • Autism Symptoms

    Medical Red Flags of Autism

    Ear infections, food allergies and sensitivities, and gastrointestinal disorders.

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Meet Sheri A. Marino, MA, CCC-SLP

Pediatric Health Advisor

Sheri is a pediatric speech and language pathologist with over 25 years of clinical experience specializing in autism. She has published numerous articles on autism and shares her clinical expertise through writing and lecturing internationally. Sheri is passionate about treating the “whole child” through integrative medicine and is interested in research that examines the environmental causes of autism. As a consultant to FFH, Sheri contributes her clinical knowledge and management experience to help develop and carry out the mission of the Focus for Health Foundation. She has been featured on CBS News, NBC News, NJN and multiple Cable networks.

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Autism Symptoms


Julie S

Thank you for publishing this article. If I’d had information like this when my son was a child, it might have helped me get past all the parent blaming and the counselor who told me, after all the background I’d given him in writing of my son’s early sensory and behavior issues, and with my son draping himself upside down in the chair next to me that he didn’t think anything was wrong.

Had I known then what I know now, I might have had the courage to stand up to them all and continue to pursue getting him the help he needed back then. Now, as an adult, he has quite a lot of social anxiety and suffers from depression on a regular basis. His self esteem is very low.

Chris Smith

We keep saying that the cause(s) and cures for autism are a mystery but I think we are getting closer to uncovering and validating some important information. Studies in the USA, Italy and The Netherlands are focusing on non-IgE food sensitivities beyond a simplified approach that only looks at gluten and casein. Smaller studies show promise. My hope is that a larger study will include family history of allergies and sensitivities to spot some susceptibilities that can be triggered by foods and other materials children come in contact with. Fortunately we had a great explanation of this by Dr. Marshall Mandell 35+years ago so a relatively easy food diary followed by a strict elimination diet of repetitively eaten foods made a huge difference with 2 children from allergic families in a blind test.


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