Disability Warning Signs

Early signs that may indicate a disability in your child.

Find out what signs to watch out for in detecting a disability in your child.



Autism is a neurological disorder that makes it difficult for children to interact socially or communicate. People with autism have trouble understanding and relating to others and may overreact — or underreact — to sensory stimulation.

Watch for these early signs of autism if your child:

  • Arches back to avoid touch
  • Rocks or bangs head
  • Doesn't babble by 1 year of age or has no single words by 16 months
  • Fails to point or look when others point out an object
  • Can't maintain good eye contact
  • Makes little attempt to communicate
  • Develops language and then stops talking
  • Doesn't exhibit pretend play by 18 months

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects muscle control. The severity of the motor impairment varies from clumsiness or a mild limp to immobility requiring use of wheelchair.

Some early warning signs of cerebral palsy include:

  • Delayed attainment of motor milestones, including rolling over, sitting, crawling, or walking
  • Muscles that are excessively flaccid and relaxed (decreased muscle tone) or excessively stiff and rigid (increased muscle tone)
  • Poorly coordinated movements
  • Persistence of infantile reflexes

Hearing Impairment

Thirty out of 1,000 school children have some type of hearing loss. Early detection is critical.

You should be concerned about hearing loss if your child:

  • Doesn't react to sudden loud noises
  • Doesn't turn his head toward you when you speak
  • Doesn't coo or babble by 6 months of age
  • Is slow to develop language

Vision Impairment

The degree of impairment can range from partially sighted (any vision loss requiring special training) to totally blind. Experts recommend that all children have an eye exam shortly after birth, at 6 months of age, before entering school, and throughout the school years.

Here are some indications that your child may have a vision problem:

  • A change in the usual appearance of the eye(s)
  • Constantly crosses eyes (Note: Most babies occasionally cross their eyes in the first 6 months)
  • Squints or closes one eye
  • Blinks or rubs eyes frequently
  • One eye drifts in a different direction
  • Poor hand-eye coordination

What to Do

If your child exhibits behaviors that you suspect may indicate a disability, tell your pediatrician or family doctor. You should also consider sources closer to home. Have your child's caregivers, relatives, or friends expressed any concern about your child's development?

However, remember to trust your instincts. Parents often know intuitively when something is not quite right with their child's development, says Judy Swett, a parent advocate and trainer for PACER (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) Center, a Minneapolis advocacy organization for children with disabilities and their families.

Your pediatrician or family doctor may refer you to a local developmental assessment program, in which a team of professionals will evaluate your child's social, motor, and cognitive skills. You can request a list of disability assessment and intervention resources for your state by contacting the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) in Washington, DC, at (800) 695-0285.

Jenny Friedman holds a PhD in learning disabilities with a specialty in preschool language and cognitive development. She's also the mother of three.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

Content courtesy of American Baby.