Early intervention & ASD

Early Intervention refers to services specifically designed for infants and preschool children, along with their families, who have been diagnosed with a disability or developmental delay such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Intellectual Disability (ID) or possibly Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

For young children with ASD these services are designed to identify and address the child’s needs in five developmental areas; physical, cognitive, communication, social & emotional and adaptive. The following are question prompts under these specific developmental areas that will be observable in a typically developing child by the age of six months:

Physical development

  • Does the child bring hands to mouth
  • Can they hold their head up when on their tummy
  • Does the child seem unusually stiff or floppy

Cognitive development

  • Do they watch things when they are moving
  • Do they respond to sounds around them


  • Do they smile at people
  • Do they ‘babble’ or make other sounds

Social or emotional development

  • Do they show affection for family members
  • Do they laugh and squeal

Motor development

  • Do they reach out for things
  • Do they push down on feet when held on a hard surface

Typically developing children reach milestones at particular times with some variance. If the milestones are not met or you are concerned about your child’s development you may wish to seek medical advice as this may be an early sign that your child has a developmental disability such as ASD.

By the age of 12 months a child will typically be displaying the following :

  • Pointing to things in the environment eg. your face, dog, toy
  • There should a repertoire of gestures eg. clapping hands, waving bye, shaking head for yes/no
  • Will be attempting crawling, rolling, standing when supported
  • Single word utterances of muma, dada, bye

By 2 years of age a child will typically be displaying the following:

  • Reponse to simple instructions eg. get teddy
  • Can link words to simple things eg. cup, spoon, book
  • Can imitate words and actions eg. hip hip hooray!
  • Uses 2- word utterances eg. drink muma, doggy eat
  • Has a vocabulary of greater than 10 words
  • Plays successfully with simple toys eg. pushes a toy car, gives dolly a cuddle
  • Walks steadily
  • Can maintain previously learnt skills

By 3 years of age a child will typically be displaying the following:

  • Speaks in short sentences eg the dog is sleeping
  • Responds to simple instructions eg. put your toys away
  • Plays successfully with simple toys eg can complete a simple wooden jigsaw puzzle
  • Plays happily with other children
  • Can engage in pretend play with other children
  • Has eye contact with others
  • Is steady on their feet
  • Can maintain previous learnt skills

By 4 years of age a child will typically be displaying the following:

  • Enjoyment in playing with others
  • Happily interacts with others outside the family circle
  • Engages happily in conversation and can retell a basic story
  • Follows a three step direction eg. Sam put your cup on the bench, get your coat and come with me
  • Draws and scribbles with crayons and pencils
  • Speaks clearly
  • Can maintain previously learnt skills

By 5 years of age a child will typically be displaying the following:

  • Enjoys social interactions with others
  • Can regulate their behaviour
  • Can focus on activities for more that 5 minutes
  • Responds easily to others
  • Can tell the difference between real and make believe
  • Has a wide range of emotions
  • Can say first and last name, knows their address
  • Can do daily tasks without help eg. go to the toilet, clean teeth, wash and dry hands, get dressed, feed themselves
  • Can maintain previously learnt skills.

If some of the above indicators are not evident in your child and you are concerned, your child may benefit from early intervention services. If you just have a suspicion or if a diagnosis of ASD has been confirmed then service options are available for your child. You now need to organise your thoughts and questions and put in place services for your child. If your child has a further diagnosis such as Intellectual Disability(ID) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) then there are further services you may need to consider.

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