Autism Early Signs: What to Look for in Babies, Toddlers, and Children

March 7, 2016

As a parent, you bring your bundle of joy home from the hospital with the full knowledge that you will do just about anything for this tiny human who has stolen your heart.  You relish in every milestone: the first smile, cooing, rolling over, crawling, walking, talking and the list goes on and on. Most likely you also saved even the smallest semblance of those early years like the first haircut, a hand-print and coloring galore.  While cherishing these moments, that slip away too quickly, you may become suspicious that something isn’t quite right.  As a parent, you never want to believe that your precious child has a problem. But when it comes to autism, catching it early makes a huge difference. If you have an inkling “something is up,” check out our list of things to be aware of as symptoms and early signs of autism.

For babies and toddlers there are some early signs to evaluate.  Instead of noticing abnormal behaviors most parents report that they noticed the absence of normal behaviors such as:

  • Doesn’t make eye contact (e.g. look at you when being fed)
  • Doesn’t smile when smiled at
  • Doesn’t respond to his or her name, or to the sound of a familiar voice
  • Doesn’t follow objects visually
  • Doesn’t point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate
  • Doesn’t follow the gesture when you point things out
  • Doesn’t make noises to get your attention
  • Doesn’t initiate or respond to cuddling
  • Doesn’t imitate your movements and facial expressions
  • Doesn’t reach out to be picked up
  • Doesn’t play with other people or share interest and enjoyment
  • Doesn’t ask for help or make other basic requests

In older children the red flags for autism become more diverse.

  • Appears disinterested or unaware of other people or what’s going on around them
  • Doesn’t know how to connect with others, play, or make friends
  • Prefers not to be touched, held, or cuddled
  • Doesn’t play “pretend” games, engage in group games, imitate others, or use toys in creative ways
  • Has trouble understanding or talking about feelings
  • Doesn’t seem to hear when others talk to him or her
  • Doesn’t share interests or achievements with others (drawings, toys)
  • Speaks in an abnormal tone of voice, or with an odd rhythm or pitch (e.g. ends every sentence as if asking a question)
  • Repeats the same words or phrases over and over
  • Responds to a question by repeating it, rather than answering it
  • Refers to themselves in the third person
  • Uses language incorrectly (grammatical errors, wrong words)
  • Has difficulty communicating needs or desires
  • Doesn’t understand simple directions, statements, or questions
  • Takes what is said too literally (misses undertones of humor, irony, and sarcasm)
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Uses facial expressions that don’t match what he or she is saying
  • Doesn’t pick up on other people’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures
  • Makes very few gestures (such as pointing). May come across as cold or “robot-like.”
  • Reacts unusually to sights, smells, textures, and sounds. May be especially sensitive to loud noises.
  • Abnormal posture, clumsiness, or eccentric ways of moving (e.g. walking exclusively on tiptoe) (Source: The Help Guide – A trusted non-profit guide to mental health and well-being)

Regardless of the age of your child – don’t lose hope. Treatment can reduce the disorder’s effects and help your child learn, grow, and thrive. Talk to your primary care physician about signs you are noticing whether they are in area of communication, language or social difficulties.  They can steer you in the right direction for a referral and evaluation.