What are signs of autism in children?

Autism looks different in different children. It looks different in children of varying ages, and children can fall anywhere along the autism spectrum. For example, a baby may go through all the typical developmental milestones, but at around age eight or nine may have trouble relating to other children, or he may start having problems with the organizational aspects of the homework. This child may have Asperger's Syndrome, which looks different than your typical classic autism (non-verbal, no social skills at all), which is apparent much earlier. Because of this, choosing a qualified professional to give a diagnosis is important.

My advice: follow your instincts. If you are the parent, you know your child best because you spend the most time with him. If you think there is something wrong, there probably is. Take the first step and see a professional who can help you.
Signs of autism in children could include a significant speech delay, low muscle tone or lack of coordination, lack of social engagement or reciprocation, restricted or limited interests, and repetitive actions, activities and vocalizations. When in doubt, follow up with your pediatrician as soon as possible to share your suspicions or concerns. Trust your parent's heart and do not hesitate to get a second opinion if you're told, "He'll grow out of it." Your child's early developmental years are the key window of opportunity to seize advantage of supporting him through education, therapy, and helpful strategies that will poise him for success.

As autism is a spectrum disorder, there is a varied symptom presentation. In toddlers, more obvious markers of ASD may not be present (mechanical voice, motor stereotypes) and it is often the ABSENCE of normal behavior that provides cues about aberrant development. Early warning signs may include lack of eye contact, delayed spontaneous pointing, and a lack of response to voice. Young children may engage in more repetitive play and may not show in interest in their peers. 

Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) begin before the age of 3 and last throughout a person's life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children with an ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with an ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had. A person with an ASD might:
  • Not respond to their name by 12 months
  • Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Not play "pretend" games (pretend to "feed" a doll) by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
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A child with autism may exhibit the following behaviors:
  • Not playing "pretend" games
  • Not pointing at objects to show interest
  • Not looking at objects when another person points at them
  • Having trouble relating to people or not having an interest in them at all
  • Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone
  • Having trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Preferring not to be held or cuddled or perhaps cuddling only when they want to
  • Appearing to be unaware when people talk to them but responding to other sounds
  • Being very interested in people but not knowing how to talk, play or relate to them
  • Repeating or echoing words or phrases said to them, or repeating words or phrases in place of normal language
  • Having trouble expressing needs using typical words or motions
  • Repeating actions over and over
  • Having trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • Having unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel or sound
  • Losing skills they once had
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Continue Learning about Autism



It's at age two or three that an autistic child begins showing symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. You pick the child up, and they stiffen up, or may go limp. They no longer smile, don't maintain eye contact, loose language ski...

lls. Autism spectrum disorders include a range of difficulties that can affect social skills, learning, and intelligence. Some children with autism have milder symptoms than others. Medications, education, and behavior management can help autistic children.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.