Therapy room at Lighthouse Autism Center with toys on a table with blue chairs and book shelves above

Do Autistic Babies Smile?  

We take a look at the importance of early intervention, some of the milestones for parents to look out for, and the more common signs of autism in babies. 

Do Autistic Babies Smile? Signs Of Autism In Babies?

Watching your baby grow is exciting, even though it’s also characterized by a lack of sleep. You get an intimate view of your baby’s development as a parent or caregiver and will notice the day-to-day changes in their behaviors as they build new abilities and skills. 

But, while every child develops at their own pace, failure to reach particular milestones can indicate developmental delays. If you know what to look out for, you could be able to detect early symptoms of developmental differences that are associated with autism in babies. Remember that autistic baby symptoms aren’t in the presence of unexpected behaviors but rather in the lack of development in expected behaviors and skills by a certain age. 

In this article, we’re going to look at the importance of early detection and the common signs of autism in babies. 

The importance of observation and early diagnosis

The importance of early detection and intervention cannot be understated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most parents will notice early signs of autism within the first year, and 80 to 90% will pick up developmental differences by the time their child is two years old.  

As a parent or caregiver, you have unique insight into their daily behaviors and interactions. You will likely be the first person to notice any developmental milestones or early signs of autism in your child. 

Early diagnosis and intervention are critical, as they allow specialists to start working with autistic children in the crucial developmental years.  

Any therapist or professional will tell you that the earlier you detect and diagnose autism, the more effective any therapy will be. This is particularly true for targeted programs like Lighthouse fusion ABA therapy

Research clearly shows that early intervention is critical for improved outcomes in skills development. It also helps reduce the challenging behaviors that hinder autistic children in social and educational settings. 

Neuroplasticity is higher in young children, which means that their brains can more easily change and adapt to their experiences. Intervention at an early age offers a better chance for an autistic child’s brain development to be positively influenced by therapy. Therapists can help create and shape new positive neural pathways that benefit the child and their parents or caregivers. 

Developmental milestones as early indicators of autism 

There are several developmental milestones in a child’s early years. These are some of the most important to look out for. 


A child will often smile for the first time between six and eight weeks old. Your baby should be smiling, giggling, and chuckling by four months. They should also respond to your smile, laugh, or efforts to engage them.  

Verbal communication

Some autistic children are non-verbal communicators and won’t develop the same verbal communication in infancy as allistic (non-autistic) infants. A baby will start to gurgle and make noises early on and could start to say words like “mama” from six to 12 months. However, 16 months is the usual limit for a single word, and they should know two-word phrases by age two. 


Infants should have a broad range of movements by six months old. They should be reaching for things, leading, or pointing. Mimicking your gestures, like kisses, is also expected. 

Fine and gross motor skills

Grip strength, and finger and wrist movements are fine motor skills, while larger body movements like walking, running, and balance, etc., are gross motor skills. These are all important milestones. 


Crawling is a hugely significant milestone as it requires coordination and balance. Children should be able to crawl by 12 months and walk by 18 months. 

What are the signs of autism in babies?

The milestones above will start to develop between six months and a year old, but it’s also important to keep in mind that all children develop at different rates. One of the following on its own is not a sign of autism in a baby, but if your baby shows a few of the symptoms, then it’s worth going to a doctor for an assessment. 

Some early signs of autism in babies include: 

Lack of social smiling

Autistic babies smile but don’t smile as much as allistic babies. Typically, a baby will smile back at you as early as six weeks, but certainly by four months. Autistic children tend to lack social smiling in response to your gestures. 

Lack of eye contact

Babies like to make eye contact from a very young age. This allows them to mimic their parents or caregivers, and it’s interesting for them. Autistic babies may not make eye contact. 

Not responding to their name or attempts to engage

Most babies will respond to their name by nine months, while they should respond to attempts to engage them much earlier on.  

Lack of social anticipation

Allistic babies can usually anticipate social interactions. For example, they might lift their arms in anticipation of being lifted out of their cribs or laugh or cry in response to peek-a-boo. It’s worth looking into if your child is not anticipating these kinds of social interactions by about nine months. 

Limited eye tracking

Eye tracking is another vital marker. Babies should follow their favorite toy if you move it around in front of them, or they should visually track your movements. 

No social babbling and limited verbal communication

Babies are highly social beings, and they will babble to themselves and you while learning to talk. Autistic babies can be slow to verbalize or might babble at a young age, but this could stop after a certain point.  


Autistic children tend to develop fixations on particular subjects or textures when they are older. Babies might develop fixations on unusual objects like fans or certain parts of a toy. They could also fixate on ceiling or floor patterns.  

Sensory sensitivity 

Autistic children tend to have sensory issues that can become more apparent as they grow up, but even babies can display sensory sensitivities that might be a sign of neurodivergence. This usually includes signs of distress like hand waving, covering their ears, and more. While this differs between individuals, it usually includes sensitivity to bright lights, certain noises, smells, and more. 

On the other hand, an autistic baby could have hyposensitivity in some areas, which means that they are under-responsive to certain stimuli. 

Get the quality of life your child deserves with early intervention therapy at LAC

At the Lighthouse Autism Center, we fuse the best speech and ABA therapy practices to create a unique clinical model that delivers outstanding results for autistic children. Combined with the vast array of autism resources at your disposal, LAC offers the best chance of the future that your child deserves. 

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

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