Development and Play: What am I looking for?

16th April 2021

The month of April is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) month, providing a good opportunity to look at this spectrum disorder in a little more detail.  ASD is a developmental disorder involving a difference in communication, interactions (social and play) and behaviours.


ASD is usually diagnosed in preschool aged children, but sometimes differences can be noted earlier on.


So what communication and play is expected for kids at different ages? And when would early intervention be recommended?



6 months:

  • Smiling and looking/interested in people
  • They should be starting to babble
  • Starting to reach for toys and grasping/exploring them using hands, eyes and mouth


9 months:

  • Eye contact and sharing enjoyment in facial expressions
  • Pointing, waving and gesturing
  • Moving toys from one hand to another, holding onto toys


12 months:

  • Noticing a new person, rolling a ball, peekaboo
  • First words and/or babbling phrases
  • Using fingers to play with toys (index and thumb particularly)
  • Interested in foods and feeding themselves/holding their own bottle


18 months:

  • Wanting to play and interact with others
  • Some clear words, able to understand and act on requests
  • Copying demonstrated play (stacking blocks, scribbling with crayon etc)


2 years:

  • Using toys for their appropriate purpose, not just banging and throwing
  • Learning new words and joining words
  • Feeding themselves and helping with dressing


3 years:

  • Playing and interacting with other children, rather than by themselves
  • Recognising feelings (in themselves and others)
  • Using simple sentences and able to be understood


4 years:

  • Playing co-operatively with others
  • Following two-step directions
  • Drawing lines, circles and people



If you feel like your child is not reaching some of these milestones, then a review with your GP or child health nurse (CHN) is indicated. Parents are most often the best judge of these, but feedback from childcare workers/early childhood educators is always very helpful.


No two children are the same, whether they have ASD or not, so often the areas that children might need support will vary.



Early intervention is important for those children who are not meeting milestones, to reach their full potential in their areas of need, your GP might refer you to:

  • Speech therapist
  • Paediatrician: evaluation, assessment and diagnosis
  • Psychologist: behaviour therapy/social skills development
  • Occupational therapy: help with hearing, visual input, touch and focus
  • Special education: student support group or classroom aide



When in doubt, touch base with your GP and open the discussion about social development!



This article has been written by Dr Pascale Papalia

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