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The Competent Parent: Is My Baby Autistic?


Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I am mildly concerned about my 7 month old baby. Is it possible to see signs of autism in a child so young? Is that something you specialize in? If not, do you have anyone that you could refer me to?

It’s all new to me

Dear New Parent,

I’m not an “expert” on autism, however I do know normal development and can usually spot deviations that warrant closer investigation.  I have had some experience with young children who were ultimately diagnosed with the disorder.  Also, I have frequent interaction with my now eight-month-old grandbaby, so I’m well up on early developmental milestones, that if missed, warrant observation by a professional.

From birth, a baby quickly develops a preference for watching and listening to his primary caregivers, recognizing your voices since before he or she was born. His/her eyes should “track” your conversations, the baby’s gaze going back and forth between Mommy and Daddy, for example. By seven months, your baby should be exhibiting delight for such things as your face, your blowing “raspberries” on his/her belly, and the surprise of your re-appearing countless times when you play “peek-a-boo.” He or she should be giving you and other close family members, regular caregivers and family pets “whole body joy” – vigorous wiggling down to his toes just for coming into view and speaking to him/her. By now there should be set patterns of grunting, frowning, whining, or calling out to get you to respond to his or her needs.

In contrast, red flags for an infant with special needs would include any of the following: extreme sensitivity to social stimulation (avoiding eye contact, fearful of any new faces); hysteria when a feeding or changing routine is changed; arching away rather than cuddling close when held; little or no communication patterns between you; and or showing very little emotion most of the time.

Here is a site that describes some of the behaviors of infants and toddlers that could signal autism:


Any parent or guardian with concerns about the development of a child under the age of three should contact the Infants and Toddlers Program, a service of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. The phone number is: 410-222-6911. The website is: http://www.aacps.org/infants/itp.asp. If you are in another school district, find out about its Infants and Toddlers or Child Find services. These include observation/assessment and consultation regarding any delays or deviations in development which could impact a child’s later success in school.

If your baby does indeed have autism, or a hearing problem, or a vision problem, or a processing problem, the earlier you take these actions the better.   Free services for early intervention could include weekly play groups and regular appointments for you and the baby with specific therapists. You will both be learning skills to help you be successful.

There was an autism support group for families in Anne Arundel County that has, unfortunately, decided to dissolve, but the group’s website has some good links worth investigating: http://www.aaccasa.org/ The group has a lending library which will remain at the Partners for Success resource center at Oakwood Elementary. Call 410-222-3805 or e-mail partnersforsuccess@aacps.org“>partnersforsuccess@aacps.org to inquire about availability. Materials can be picked up and returned at the center or can be sent to your neighborhood school. The website also mentions that the Arc, Central Chesapeake Region, located on Spa Road in Annapolis, will be absorbing the role of connecting families to these and other resources to address their special needs.  That number is: 410-268-8005 and the website is: www.thearcccr.org.

Good for you for being concerned enough to write. Now take your next step!  

Dr. Debbie


Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com“>editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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