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Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that can affect your child’s social interactions, communication, and learning. Each child with autism may fall on a different part of the autism spectrum. Some children are verbal; others are not. Some crave sensory input, while others avoid crowds and noises. Our team at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development is passionate about understanding your child’s unique situation and dedicated to helping your child reach his or her highest potential and independence.

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Signs of Autism

Autism generally emerges in the first few years of life. Signs that may indicate autism include:

  • A baby or young child who does not make a typical amount of eye contact or pay attention to other people
  • A lack of smiling when engaging with others
  • A lack of response to his or her name being called (this could also be due to hearing difficulties, so you should have your child’s hearing checked)
  • A lack of use of gestures, such as pointing or showing things
  • Less interest than is typical in playing games such as patty-cake or imitation games
  • Lack of or reduced babbling or use of words to communicate
  • Unusual ways of pointing or repetitive movements such as hand flapping, spinning objects, or peering at objects held close to the face

Signs May Not Develop Until Later in Childhood
Primary care doctors are encouraged to screen for early signs of autism in toddlers at ages 18 and 24 months. Some children with mild autism find ways to compensate for developmental issues; their autism may not become obvious until later in childhood.

If You Are Concerned About Your Child's Behavior
Contact your primary care doctor or reach out to us directly. An early diagnosis allows us to have the greatest impact on your child’s development. Treatments, especially those put in place at a young age, can be highly effective in nurturing your child’s ability to thrive at home, in school, and in social situations.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Comprehensive Evaluation

We put your child at ease as we get to know his or her social and communication skills, behavioral challenges, and academic performance. We rely on input from your family, your child’s teachers, or others who spend significant time with your child; we may ask you to complete questionnaires. We include input from Duke specialists in neurology, speech-language pathology, eating disorders, gastroenterology, and occupational therapy to identify and try to resolve overlapping physical and behavioral problems. We can help you coordinate services from different providers at Duke and in the community. We may recommend genetic testing.

Intervention Services

If you have an infant or young child with autism, we have research-tested methods to coach you on how to play with your child, encourage communication, respond to difficult behaviors, and structure a daily schedule. These methods encourage positive and reduce negative behaviors. Additional therapies can help older children learn social skills, problem-solving, self-esteem, and how to manage emotions. If your child is experiencing anxiety or depression, cognitive behavior therapy may be appropriate for your child.


In some cases, medications may address emotional and behavioral difficulties associated with autism. Our psychiatrists are skilled at managing medications and adjusting dosages to find what's most effective for your child.

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Professional Help for Your Child with Autism

Sensitivity and Respect
We know how committed you are to helping your child lead a productive life. We listen carefully to your perspective and insights and incorporate your family’s goals and priorities into your child’s care plan. We make every effort to help your child feel safe and comfortable. We conduct all evaluations and therapies with sensitivity and respect.

We Treat Children of All Ages
We treat children from 6 months of age through young adults. It is our aim to start working with children as early as possible to achieve maximum benefit from therapies.

Your Child's Team
Your family may receive support from one or more members of our team, which includes psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, neurodiagnostic technicians, social workers, and nurses. We can also bring in additional Duke experts to help your child with issues that often accompany autism. These may include experts in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, sleep problems, eating issues, and learning difficulties.

Access to Specialists
Children with medical conditions, such as seizures and sleep problems, will benefit from our teams of specialists, both in the hospital and in our clinic, who are sensitive to how these conditions can impair a child’s coping skills and behavior. They can give special attention to helping your child manage additional stressors created by having both autism and a physical illness.

Clinical Trial Eligibility
You or your child may be eligible to participate in clinical trials at Duke that provide access to novel autism treatments that are not widely available. Our autism experts participate in, and often lead, research into innovative treatments designed to improve outcomes for individuals with autism. For example, we are studying ways to improve autism symptoms in young children and testing medications to improve behaviors such as social communication and interaction skills.

Best Children's Hospital in NC

Duke Children's Hospital & Health Center is proud to be nationally ranked in 10 pediatric specialties.

This page was medically reviewed on 04/11/2018