Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that is characterized by deficits in the ability to learn, to communicate, and to form social relationships. Current estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the prevalence of autism at 1 in 59 children born today, making autism more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. Autism occurs across all racial, ethnic, and social groups and its effects typically last a lifetime.

Autism is described as a spectrum disorder because its symptoms vary from individual to individual both in terms of severity and variety of behavioral traits.


Some of the characteristics displayed in people with autism are:

  • Delay or lack or loss of speech
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Lack of response to other people
  • Treating others as if they were inanimate objects
  • Repetitive behaviors such as spinning or flapping hands
  • Balancing in precarious places
  • Eating, sleeping, and toileting difficulties
  • Extreme dislike of certain noises or textures
  • Extremely passive or extremely active behaviors
  • Dislike of being touched
  • Over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain or sound
  • Failure to demonstrate typical signs of affection
  • No fear of danger
  • Restrictive range of interests
  • Extreme dislike of certain foods
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Lack of interest in toys
  • Desire to keep objects in rigid patterns
  • Desire to follow certain patterns of behavior
  • Self injurious behavior
  • Areas of advanced skill (in art, music, arithmetic, calendar, or memory)


The Checklist for Autism in Toddlers is a screening tool to be used by Pediatricians during the 18-month developmental checkup.

Section A – Ask Parent: Yes or No?

    1. Does your child enjoy being swung, bounced on your knee, etc?
    2. Does your child take an interest in other children?
    3. Does your child like climbing on things, such as up stairs?
    4. Does your child enjoy playing peek-a-boo/hide-and-seek?
    5. *Does your child ever pretend, for example, to make a cup of tea using a toy cup and teapot, or pretend other things?
    6. Does your child ever use his/her index finger to point, to ask for something?
    7. *Does your child ever use his/her index finger to point, to indicate interest in something?
    8. Can your child play properly with small toys (e.g. cars or bricks) without just mouthing, fiddling, or dropping them?
    9. Does your child ever bring objects over to you, to show you something?

Section B – GP’s observation Yes or No?

    1. During the appointment, has the child made eye contact with you?
    2. *Get child’s attention, then point across the room at an interesting object and say “Oh look! There’s a (name a toy)!” Watch child’s face. Does the child look across to see what you are pointing at?
      NOTE – to record yes on this item, ensure the child has not simply looked at your hand, but has actually looked at the object you are pointing at.
    3. *Get the child’s attention, then give child a miniature toy cup and teapot and say “Can you make a cup of tea?” Does the child pretend to pour out the tea, drink it, etc?
      NOTE – if you can elicit an example of pretending in some other game, score a yes on this item
    4. *Say to the child “Where’s the light?” or “Show me the light”. Does the child point with his/her index finger at the light?
      NOTE – Repeat this with “Where’s the teddy?” or some other unreachable object, if child does not understand the word “light”. To record yes on this item, the child must have looked up at your face around the time of pointing.
    5. Can the child build a tower of bricks? (If so, how many?) (Number of bricks…)
    6. * Indicates critical question most indicative of autistic characteristic


Organization for Autism Research
Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership
Aspergers Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association
Autism Speaks