Signs of Autism in Children

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) looks different in each person, because no two people with ASD are the same. With that said, there are certain things that many children with autism have in common, especially when it comes to their developmental milestones.

To break it down, we’ve provided an explanation of what the different signs of autism may look like in younger and older children, and what to do if you spot them.

Autism in Young Children: Know Your Milestones

Young children are typically social and outgoing. Babies will react to your tone of voice and facial expression, and toddlers will want to play with you, show you their toys, and ask lots of questions about the world as they learn and grow.

Infants and toddlers with autism may behave a little differently; they could do all of these things, some of them, or none at all. Overall, young children with autism may:

Autism in Young Children
  • Avoid or make very little eye contact
  • Not respond to their name, but will respond to other sounds (the TV, birds, car horns, etc.)
  • Not point at things, people, or events to ask questions
  • Not respond to facial expressions, such as smiling
  • Repeat words or phrases without knowing what they mean (called echolalia, or “parroting”)
  • Become extremely upset at changes in routine
  • Obsess over a few activities and repeat them throughout the day (stacking blocks, organizing toys, etc.)
  • Be hypersensitive to sounds, lights, textures, smells, and touch
  • Rock, spin, or flap their hands (called stereotypic behavior or “stimming”)
  • Avoid or make very little eye contact
  • Not respond to their name, but will respond to other sounds (the TV, birds, car horns, etc.)
  • Not point at things, people, or events to ask questions
  • Not respond to facial expressions, such as smiling
  • Repeat words or phrases without knowing what they mean (called echolalia, or “parroting”)
  • Become extremely upset at changes in routine
  • Obsess over a few activities and repeat them throughout the day (stacking blocks, organizing toys, etc.)
  • Be hypersensitive to sounds, lights, textures, smells, and touch
  • Rock, spin, or flap their hands (called stereotypic behavior or “stimming”)
  • Avoid or make very little eye contact
  • Not respond to their name, but will respond to other sounds (the TV, birds, car horns, etc.)
  • Not point at things, people, or events to ask questions
  • Not respond to facial expressions, such as smiling
  • Repeat words or phrases without knowing what they mean (called echolalia, or “parroting”)
  • Become extremely upset at changes in routine
  • Obsess over a few activities and repeat them throughout the day (stacking blocks, organizing toys, etc.)
  • Be hypersensitive to sounds, lights, textures, smells, and touch
  • Rock, spin, or flap their hands (called stereotypic behavior or “stimming”)

Signs of autism typically begin to manifest by the time a child is 24 months old, but this isn’t always the case. No two children are the same, and milestones don’t always occur right on the dot for every single child. For example, some children with autism do achieve some of their developmental milestones and then may seem to suddenly regress.

The CDC’s website outlines a comprehensive list of developmental milestones, but as a parent, you know your child best: Trust your instincts, and if you are concerned that your child’s behavior has changed suddenly or they don’t seem to be hitting their milestones, see your pediatrician to speak to them about your concerns.

Autism in Older Children: Pay Attention

Perhaps your child did hit all their milestones and attends mainstream school, but they have social or communication differences that make it hard for them to “fit in.” For your child, these differences might just seem normal — but as a parent, they may be a cause for concern if something doesn’t feel right.

Autism in Older Children

Older children with autism may:

  • Have trouble reading and responding to social cues, like body language or tone of voice
  • Talk a lot about their favorite topics or unusual interests
  • Seem to lack empathy, because they have a hard time reading facial expressions and guessing how others are feeling
  • Prefer to spend time on their own rather than with others their age
  • Not understand which behaviors are expected in schools
  • Have difficulty making friends and maintaining friendships

Older children with autism may:

  • Have trouble reading and responding to social cues, like body language or tone of voice
  • Talk a lot about their favorite topics or unusual interests
  • Seem to lack empathy, because they have a hard time reading facial expressions and guessing how others are feeling
  • Prefer to spend time on their own rather than with others their age
  • Not understand which behaviors are expected in schools
  • Have difficulty making friends and maintaining friendships

Older children with autism may:

  • Have trouble reading and responding to social cues, like body language or tone of voice
  • Talk a lot about their favorite topics or unusual interests
  • Seem to lack empathy, because they have a hard time reading facial expressions and guessing how others are feeling
  • Prefer to spend time on their own rather than with others their age
  • Not understand which behaviors are expected in schools
  • Have difficulty making friends and maintaining friendships

If your older child or preteen is exhibiting these behaviors and you suspect they may have ASD, talk to your pediatrician or general practitioner, who can put you in touch with a pediatric psychiatrist to examine and diagnose your child. The sooner they are diagnosed, the sooner they can receive additional support to help them thrive.

It’s also important to keep in mind that, while boys are four times as likely to be diagnosed with ASD, autism in girls tends to look a little different, leading many girls to be diagnosed later in childhood or even well into adulthood. The more we learn about autism in all people regardless of gender, the more we can support them.

How Accurate are Autism Tests?

Early intervention is critical when it comes to ensuring that children with autism are able to access the support they need. There is no medical test for autism, but a child psychiatrist or developmental pediatrician will look at your child’s behavior and developmental history in order to make a diagnosis, after a comprehensive developmental evaluation.

Although ASD can be detected earlier than 24 months, a diagnosis after this age is generally reliable, especially since researchers are learning more about autism every day. Therefore, an autism diagnosis by a specialist is considered accurate.

Once you receive an official diagnosis, your child will be able to take advantage of autism treatments like ABA therapy to get them the early help they need if they are a young child, or help them attain accommodations if they are an older child, such as additional time to complete assignments or extra support in school.

Autism Treatment in North Carolina

Whether your child’s diagnosis is official, or you suspect that your child has ASD, the Cardinal Center for Behavior Analysis is here to answer any questions you may have. We know that autism looks different in every child, and that’s what makes them unique. For questions about our programs or about autism treatment in North Carolina, give us a call at (919) 822-8802 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation today.

Questions?

Get in touch. We're here to help.