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What Are The 4 Signs of Autism In Children?

Autism concept
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A diagnosis of autism in young children is not always easy to confirm. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, one in every 59 children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, with a high percentage being males. Many parents wonder about what signs to look for and when to address developmental shortcomings if they arise.

Currently, the terminology used to describe autism has changed to Autism Spectrum Disorder. This is because other conditions like Asperger syndrome were previously considered distinct. More research has shown that these developmental disorders fall along an autism spectrum of mild to severe impairment. Although Autism Spectrum Disorder is the umbrella term for all 4 types of autism, it is still a great idea to know the differences between the previous terms coined under Autism.

There is no way to know what causes autism Spectrum Disorders. It can be a combination of both genetics and the environment. However, even though most people are diagnosed in early life, autism spectrum disorder signs and symptoms can improve. This article discusses four signs of autism and how you can talk to your doctor about a diagnosis.

The four signs of autism spectrum disorder are:

  • Any regression in development
  • Social difficulties
  • Speech and language issues
  • Behavioral trouble

Any Regression in Development Is A Warning Sign

Smiling toddler

Most of the time, 80 to 90 percent of parents notice a problem with their child’s development by two years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 25 to 30 percent of 12- to 18-month-old children with autism spectrum disorder begins using some words that are then lost. This is a clear example of regression. These are some of the early signs of autism.

If you notice any of the following early signs, talk to your doctor and discuss other changes you have noticed in development:

AgeRed Flags in Development
6 months oldNo smiling. No other joyful expressions. Limited eye contact
9 months oldNo mirroring of sounds, smiles, or other expressions
1 year oldNot responding to their name. Not turning their head in the direction from which they are being called. No babbling
14 months oldNo mimicking of gestures like pointing or waving
16 months oldNo or very few spoken words
18 months oldNo playing “pretend” May only echo sounds and words heard on TV or in the home
2 years oldNo self-taught 2-word phrases. No sharing of emotions like joy with parents or guardiansImitating and repeating is common

These red flags usually develop early in life; however, as Autism Speaks points out, these can be signs of autism spectrum disorders for children of all ages. As soon as you notice a problem, ask your doctor to screen your child. Get an evaluation done sooner rather than later to ease your mind and determine if there are ways you can better adapt your daily routines.

Social Difficulties Can Be A Sign of Autism

Children who have a hard time relating to peers or getting along with others may have autism. The HelpGuide provides a range of resources to help identify if your child’s social difficulties are signs of autism. Impaired social skills are one of the four signs that may mean your child has autism spectrum disorder. In older children, some of these social difficulties become more apparent as their lack of social skills is more distinct compared to other children.

The following are specific signs to look for when identifying different social difficulties that may indicate autism:

Is Being Socially Awkward A Sign of Autism?

Being socially awkward can be a sign of autism, but it is usually accompanied by many other signs. If you have a socially awkward child, they may not have autism spectrum disorder. For this reason, it is important to get an evaluation done by a health professional.

Speech and Language Issues Are A Sign of Autism

If your child is having trouble communicating and is not communicating in the same way as their peers, this may be a sign of autism. The American Autism Association lays out some important signs, which have been summarized below. This organization specializes in providing resources and assistance for children with autism spectrum disorder who are experiencing communication challenges.

If your child is having many of the following speech and language difficulties, it would be smart to talk to their doctor:

  • Inappropriate language
  • Excessive repetition of words or phrases
  • Lack of practical language
  • Can’t initiate conversations or hold a conversation
  • Repeats questions instead of answering them
  • Cannot easily talk about wants and needs
  • Tone or pitch of voice is unusual
  • Difficulty understanding language
  • Can’t detect humor, irony, or sarcasm
  • Reverses pronouns

Any of these difficulties can be found in a child without autism spectrum disorder that is developing slowly. The difference is when many of these signs are reflected in your child. Communication is a really important part of building relationships. It is important to get your child help as soon as possible in these areas. Occupational therapy and speech therapy offer early intervention services that work on improving social skills as well as language skills. Early treatment is always the best course of action.

Enjoying this article? You might also enjoy our blog on the best children’s books about autism. Learn more about how you can do to support your child’s development.

Is Nonverbal Communication Challenging for Your Child, Too?

In addition to speech and language, nonverbal communication can be challenging for children with autism spectrum disorder. Some nonverbal signs that a child may have autism spectrum disorder are:

  • Sensitivity to noise, touch, smell, and sights
  • Difficulty interpreting body language
  • Will sometimes move in atypical ways or have a strange posture

Some Behavioral Trouble Can Point to Autism

Two Brother Fighting

For many children with autism spectrum disorder, a rigid and structured lifestyle is common. This can look different for any child. So, key characteristics are focused on behaviors, activities, and interests. Keep in mind some children may be inflexible but grow out of it. Those with autism spectrum disorder generally will be inflexible and sometimes obsessive over different things.

Some of the following behaviors are signs of trouble with being flexible, and your child may exhibit more than one:

  • Routines are very structured; when changes occur, the child gets upset
  • Can’t easily adapt to change, in both routine and environment
  • Lining up toys obsessively
  • Focusing very narrowly on a topic
  • Flaps hands, rocks back and forth, snaps fingers, or twirls repeatedly
  • Enjoys organization
  • Playtime is rigid and repetitive
  • Displays self-harming behaviors
  • Coordination issues
  • Seems unimaginative
  • Fixates or focus with unconventional intensity
  • Likes the same foods and does not want to try new things

(Source: Healthy Children)

The Mayo Clinic states that some of these inflexibilities can decrease over time. However, some may get worse before they get better. Always monitor your child’s progress and development to give accurate reports when you go see the family doctor or health professionals. 

What Do I Do If I Suspect My Child Has Autism?

If you suspect your child may have autism or another developmental disorder, talk to your doctor immediately. The best advice for all parents is to follow your instincts. If you think there is a developmental problem, do not wait to see if it will disappear. Early intervention is important to help your child develop the skills they need, whether that be language skills, social skills, communication skills, or any new skills that help them function better in daily life.

Generally, if a child is missing milestones, there is some cause for concern. Checking in with a doctor can eliminate your concerns and help you better support your child.

There are a few things you should do when addressing your child’s developmental delays with a doctor:

  • Ask for a screening – There are specific screenings for 9-, 18-, and 30-month-old children, but routine screening is important if your child is missing milestones.
  • Ask for a referral to a specialist – Specialists are trained to identify clusters of symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis.
  • Request a referral for early intervention – Occupational therapy and other intervention services would help resolve any developmental delays.


There are four signs to look for when you suspect your child has autism. Developmental, social, emotional, and behavioral issues all can indicate autism, and many of the signs of autism overlap with one another. For example, a child with difficulties communicating their thoughts and feelings will also have difficulties making friends and connections with their peers.

If you think your child has autism, go ask for help and support as soon as possible. Having a child with autism can be daunting, but there are many supports available to them. Speak to your family doctor as soon as possible.

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