Why the timing of social communication development makes a difference in kids with autism

Most parents expect children to begin talking around their first birthday. However, there are early social communication skills that develop before those first words come along. In children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), these skills may be delayed.

Social communication refers to how we interact with one another. These skills begin to develop very early during interactions with caregivers in everyday activities. They continue to advance throughout development. Some of the earliest examples of social communication development include a number of infant behaviors, such as:

  • Making direct eye contact.
  • Sharing smiles with others.
  • Babbling at people.
  • Making gestures, such as waving and pointing.

The earliest signs of autism are delays in social communication skills. If these skills aren’t developing, your child is missing out on opportunities to learn how to communicate for social purposes. For example, if your child isn’t using or understanding gestures, he’s going to have challenges with nonverbal messages. If your child is talking, but only talking about the things that interest him, he might be having difficulty tuning in to others.

A critical window to support the development of these skills occurs in your child’s first three years of life. If you notice a delay in social communication development, it’s important to talk to your child’s pediatrician about these concerns.

We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.