Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as ASD, is a challenging condition because the children diagnosed with it vary greatly from each other.
Some kids have many ASD characteristics, others have only a few.
When dealing with young children, it can be quite difficult to see the signs of ASD. However, it’s a fact that infants and young children with ASD often develop differently from their non-ASD peers, and ASD that is diagnosed early has more treatment options. With that in mind, we did some research on some of the early warning signs that parents can keep an eye out for. These are sometimes, but not always, indicators that your child might be on the autism spectrum. If your child is displaying one of these signs consistently, or several, it might be time to talk to your doctor about your concern.
Signs In Babies & Toddlers
When autism is diagnosed during infancy, treatment can have much more positive outcomes thanks to the plasticity of the infant brain. Admittedly, it’s difficult to diagnose autism prior to 24 months, and sometimes, symptoms don’t even start until a child is 12-18 months old. However, even at 18 months, intensive treatment can help to rewire a child’s brain so they aren’t so effective.
The early signs of autism in babies generally involve a lack or normal behaviours, which can make them difficult to spot. Indeed for some families, the early signs of autism are actually misinterpreted as the baby being easy to take care of. Babies with autism often seem quiet, independent and undemanding. Here are some of the signs that might suggest an ASD infant or toddler.
- Doesn’t make eye contact, such as when being fed
- Doesn’t smile back when smiled at
- Doesn’t respond to their name, or familiar voices
- Doesn’t visually follow objects
- Doesn’t exhibit any pointing or waving gestures for communication
- Doesn’t make noise to raise attention
- Doesn’t start cuddling, and doesn’t respond to it
- Doesn’t imitate parents in terms of movements and facial expressions
- Doesn’t reach to be picked up
- Doesn’t show interest in playing with others
- Doesn’t ask for help, or make requests
Signs In Older Children
As a child grows out of their baby stage and into childhood, the signs and red flags for autism become much more varied. There are a number of areas where kids might exhibit signs that suggest autism, including social difficulties, speech and language difficulties, non-verbal communication difficulties, and behavioural difficulties.
Let’s look at a few ASD signs in these areas now.
Signs of Social Difficulties
Children with autism struggle to detect and understand social interaction. Signs of this can show up very early, and as we’ve seen from the signs of autism in babies, things like lacking eye contact and an interest in others, appear even in babies. In older kids, some signs to look for include:
- Disinterest or lack of awareness in what happens around them
- Doesn’t know how to make friends and connect with others
- Doesn’t like to be held, cuddled or even touched.
- Doesn’t play games of pretend, play in groups, mimic others
- Doesn’t understand or talk about feelings
- Seems not to hear when others talk to them
- Doesn’t share interests or projects with others, like toys and art
Signs of Speech and Language Difficulties
Many children with autism start talking late, and any regression in speaking ability would definitely be looked into. These signs aren’t caught until later because children just aren’t talking.
- Speaks in an unusual tone of voice, or with strange pitch and rhythm
- Repeats words and phrases over and over
- Repeats question instead of responding to it
- Talks about self in the third person
- Uses language incorrectly, even when corrected
- Isn’t able to communicate what they want or wish for
- Doesn’t understand directions, statements of questions, even if simple
- Is very literal, and doesn’t understand humour, irony or sarcasm
Signs Of Non-Verbal Communication Difficulties
Kids who have ASD find it really difficult to understand the non-verbal ‘cues’ that others give off, such as body language, facial expressions, gestures, movements, vocal tone and so on. Here are some of the signs that indicate your child might struggle with this:
- Doesn’t practice eye contact
- Often has facial expressions that don’t match what is said
- Isn’t able to understand facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures from others
- Doesn’t make gestures
- Reacts in a different way to signs, smells, textures and sounds
- May experience sensitivity to loud noises
- Unusual posture, clumsy nature or unusual way of moving, such as walking on toes
Signs of Behavioural Difficulties
Children with autism are often described as being restrictive, inflexible and sometimes obsessive in the way they live their lives, engage in interests, and go about their activities. These are a few things to look out for that are red flags in this instance:
- Likes and insists on following a very rigid routine
- Doesn’t adapt well to changes, and may respond angrily when furniture is moved or when bedtime is changed
- Has unusual attachment to toys and other objects like keys or rubber bands
- Lines items up or arranges them in an obsessive way
- Is very preoccupied with a narrow topic of interest, which often involves numbers of symbols
- Would spend an extended period of time arranging and rearranging toys in a specific way
- Spends long periods watching moving objects, like ceiling fans, or focusing on a specific object part, like on the wheels on a train
- Repeats certain actions or motions over and over, such as rocking, twirling and so on, known as self-stimulating behaviour