What are the early signs of autism

Fortunately, there are some simple signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that can help you determine if your baby or toddler may have autism.

5 MIN READ
Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of conditions characterised by the presence of abnormal social communication and interaction patterns. These patterns may be evident early in life, sometimes as early as eighteen months old, and can often continue to develop over time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 68 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism. Even though it’s a common condition, many people don’t know what the signs of autism are or how to tell if their child might have it.  If you aren't familiar with autism, I recommend reading this post to get a wider view of autism.

Fortunately, there are some simple signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that can help you determine if your baby or toddler may have autism. If you suspect your child may be struggling with sensory processing, try using these techniques to boost his or her social skills. One of the first signs of autism is poor communication between parents and children.

Even young kids who have average intellect may struggle to understand what parents say if they speak slowly or use a different dialect than them.  By keeping an eye out for these characteristics as they appear, you could spot the early signs of autism sooner rather than later.

Recognising signs of autism

Autism is the most common developmental disability among school-aged children. But how do you know if your child might have ASD? Here are some warning signs to watch out for early on so that early intervention can begin ASAP.

Social Skills Deficits

The first clue that something isn’t quite right with your kid is related to social interaction. Children with ASD tend to struggle socially because they don’t understand social cues and body language. They may seem aloof and distant, or even aggressive toward people they don’t know well. They may have trouble reading facial expressions or responding appropriately to emotional situations. And they may have trouble communicating their needs and wants.

Autistic children often don’t respond well to social cues such as smiling or waving goodbye. In fact, they may not even recognise those gestures. This makes it difficult for parents and teachers to know what to do to help them feel comfortable around others.

Communication Difficulties

Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder don't talk at all, or have very limited verbal communication.  Children with ASD often have trouble communicating and understanding others' feelings. They may not make eye contact or may not respond when their name is called. They may have trouble starting or sustaining a conversation. And they may not understand or use nonverbal communication, such as gestures, body language, or eye contact.

Behavioural Issues

Another sign that your child may have ASD is his or her tendency to engage in repetitive behaviours. These could range from hand flapping or rocking backward and forward to collecting rocks or cars. Some kids with ASD may show unusual interest in certain topics or activities, such as trains or dinosaurs. Other kids may prefer to spend hours playing video games rather than doing homework.

Other Signs of autism

Other possible signs of autism include having difficulty following rules or showing compliance with authority figures. 

There are also common signs relating to gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and diarrhoea. Gut issues should not necessarily be used as a sign of autism, but rather an opportunity to heal.  Gut imbalance may be a factor affecting your child's development, rather than a symptom of autism.  We have more information about gut health in other blog posts. 

Kids on the spectrum may also have unusual sensitivity to sounds (particularly high-pitched noises).  This can be important to address early, even if your child does not have autism.  Noise sensitivity can affect how children feel in certain environments and situations, which influences their happiness and development.

What are the signs of autism in babies?

Some babies with ASD exhibit certain characteristics during infancy. These characteristics include:
  • Not babbling like typical infants
  • Having trouble learning language
  • Being less responsive to people around them
  • Reduced eye contact
  • Reduced gesturing and pointing.

What are the signs of autism at 12 Months?

A child with typical development will typically turn his head towards an adult calling him by name. This is known as "looking up." However, children with ASD do not necessarily look up when called by name. They may respond by turning their body toward the person speaking. If you call out to a child with ASD, he may ignore you or even run away. 

Often the first signs of autism usually become apparent at around twelve months old. They may include:
  • Not babbling and delayed speech
  • Not using gestures to communicate
  • Not looking people in the face or making eye contact 
  • Avoiding physical contact with others
  • Difficulty showing emotions

What are the signs of autism at 18 Months?

A baby at 18 months will often show a lack of interest in people and objects. They may not reach out to explore the world around them, or they might prefer to play with one toy over others. If your baby is at this age, it’s important to pay close attention to their behaviour in case there are any signs of autism that you haven’t noticed before.

What are the signs of autism at 24 Months?

By 24 months, signs of autism may be easier to spot.   They can be still quite difficult to spot.  One of the first signs that your child might have ASDs is if they start displaying an unusual level of preoccupation with activities such as trains or dolls. They may also show a lack of interest in people they are familiar with and prefer to play alone or with toys.

A child with typical development will look up at you and say "Mommy." She'll laugh and giggle and show her teeth. She'll reach out to touch you. She might even give you a hug. At 24 months, children are starting to learn about themselves and the world around them. And they're beginning to develop language skills.  A child on the spectrum may start to be more noticeable at this age if delays become more noticeable.

Some behaviours that could indicate ASDs include:
  • not responding when you call them
  • having difficulty understanding cause and effect
  • repeating words or phrases over and over again
  • being unable to carry on a conversation
  • avoid eye contact
  • struggling socially

What are the signs of autism at 36 Months and beyond?

At 36 months and beyond, the early symptoms of autism described above may be more easy to spot.  They may have difficulty with social and behavioural skills as well as missing developmental milestones by a larger margin than in the past.

At 36 months, often children become more social and spend more time playing with others, however a child on the spectrum may avoid others, and prefer to play alone in a quiet area.  For children with sensory issues, often they find a quiet area with less sensory input.

If I suspect my child has autism, what can I do?

If you suspect your child has autism, it is important to talk to your doctor. Your doctor will ask questions about your family history and medical history. He/she will perform a physical exam and order tests to rule out other conditions. These tests may include blood work and being referred to other professionals for further testing relating to an autism diagnosis. 

Autism affects development, so it's important to seek help early so that delays in development are minimised.

You may explore the symptoms of autism further with our post - What are the symptoms of autism?

Author

Warren Gouin
Warren Gouin

I'm a parent of a child that was diagnosed with autism. I'm an engineer and scientist with most of my career in the diagnostic pathology industry. I'm passionate about improve health and I want to help other parents of children with autism.

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