Children with autism might play with toys in a repetitive manner.

Developmental Milestones in Children with Autism

by Cara Batema

Developmental milestones, while a list of guidelines rather than absolutes, effectively show what areas of development your child will likely reach by a certain age; however, children with autism may or may not reach milestones at the same time as their neurotypical peers. Reaching milestones depends on the severity of your child’s autism, and your child could attain typical development in some areas and struggle with others.

Social Development

According to the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions, children by age 12 months will respond when their names are called; many children with autism will not reach this milestone by 12 months. Children with autism also typically avoid eye contact. According to Kids Health, children with autism struggle with interacting or playing with others. To help reach these milestones, parents and therapists can use social skills stories to teach children with autism in a concrete way how to act in social situations.

Cognitive Development

Typically-developing children often find interest in exploring their world; children by 4 months will reach for toys and watch faces with attention, and by 12 months they will look at objects as they are named, bang objects together or follow simple directions such as “pick up the ball,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cognitive delays are common in children with autism, so your child might not look at things with interest or could seem he is in his own world. Educational and behavioral therapies can help bring your child closer to the level of his peers.

Language Development

Language is another area often impaired with autism. Your child might not babble or gesture by 12 months, and he might struggle with spontaneous speech and expressions by 24 months, according to Yale Medical Group. The University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions suggests children who do not gesture, use words or sounds or seem to understand language might have a language deficit that may or may not indicate autism. Speech therapy is often effective to improve language delays in children with autism. While some children with severe autism do not have the oral or cognitive ability to speak, children with mild autism can gain vocabulary and expressive and receptive language skills akin to their neurotypical peers.

Common Behaviors

While it seems children with autism have delays in many areas of development, they often also have additional behaviors that are often unwanted. For example, a child with autism might engage in repetitive behaviors such as rocking or self-stimulating with a preoccupation with a single object. Children with autism often lack imaginative play, according to the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions, and instead your child might choose to play with a single toy repetitively. Sometimes medications can help with aggressive or repetitive behaviors, and behavioral therapy can also help reduce unwanted behaviors.


According to the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions, intervention for autism is meant to decrease behavioral problems while increasing independence; this kind of treatment, however, takes time, often 20 or more hours a week, including one-on-one instruction and support from family members. Not all children with autism struggle with the same areas of development, and according to Bright Tots, some children with autism have exceptional abilities. Common special talents include strong memory, musical ability, math skills or the ability to focus on one particular interest. About one in 10 children with autism have a particular skill they excel in, often above and beyond their peers.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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