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5 Early Signs of Autism

5 Early Signs of Autism

Guest Post by Katy Fleming, MA, LPC, BSN, RN

As a parent, you spend the most time with your child and become the expert on their behavior. Monitoring your little one’s developmental growth may lead to concern if certain skills haven’t developed yet.  

Learning the signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ADS) promotes early detection and intervention. Affecting approximately 1 in every 36 children, early intervention leads to better outcomes of success.

We’ll review some of the most common signs of Autism in young children.

5 Early Signs of Autism

5 Early Signs of Autism

Caused by differences in the brain, Autism is described as a neurodevelopmental disorder of social and communication. These impairments widely vary from person to person, so the disorder is described as a spectrum. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends Autism screenings for all children during their 18 and 24-month exams or whenever a parent has a concern. 

Pediatric Otolaryngologist and Inventor of the NozeBot, Dr. Stephen Goudy, discusses the early signs of Autism on Tik Tok.

Let’s break down the most common early signs and symptoms of Autism to promote early detection, treatment, and support.

1. Delayed Speech and Language Skills 

Most children on the Autism Spectrum present with language and communication delays. It’s natural for little ones to begin speaking at different times. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outline the expected speech milestones. Although it greatly differs, most kids start speaking around 12-18 months. 

Before using spoken language, babies quickly learn to express their wants and needs in other ways. For example, your baby will point, babble, and pull on your clothes to get their point across. 

In conjunction with a speech delay, children with Autism tend to lack these additional forms of communication and gestures. It’s important to remember, not all language delays are correlated with Autism.

Discuss your concerns with the pediatrician if your child isn’t meeting their milestones such as responding to their name by 9 months, waving goodbye by 12 months, and speaking simple words (e.g., “mama”) by 12-18 months.

Early Signs of Autism

2. Echoing and Repeating Words

Another trait commonly present in those on the Autism Spectrum is repeating words or phrases. All children learn words and sounds by listening to others. 

However, children with Autism tend to imitate words and phrases in an automatic way often mimicking the tone. Officially referred to as echolalia, these phrases are heard by parents or on television shows. 

Language is processed differently for children with Autism. Their brain may have difficulty breaking down the meaning of each word in a sentence. 

When a parent says, “You need to get ready for bed,” they may repeat the phrase back without changing the pronoun. The sentence is associated with bedtime without recognizing the meaning of each word.

Echoing may also calm the child when experiencing sensory overload. A child with echolalia may benefit from speech therapy.

3. Poor Eye Contact

One of the earliest signs of Autism is lack of eye contact. By 2 months of age, babies can typically look someone in the face. They start smiling when someone approaches them, as well. 

Poor eye contact alone does not indicate Autism. Every baby learns and develops at a different rate. Children may avoid looking someone in the eye when feeling anxious or confused. 

A more helpful distinction is if the child avoids eye contact and doesn’t respond to their name. Consider the speech delays and other symptoms discussed.

4. Prefers Alone Time 

As our babies grow into rambunctious toddlers, they begin to interact and play together. Children with Autism tend to prefer playing alone, however. 

Pretend and imaginary play typically starts between ages 2-3. Whether it’s cooking up an imaginary dinner in a play kitchen or caring for their baby doll, kids love all sorts of pretend play. 

Children with Autism may not engage with other toddlers and often have little awareness of their surroundings. Playtime often includes repetitive behaviors such as lining up toys or repeating one action. 

Along with lacking imaginary and interactive play skills, many children on the Autism Spectrum are upset when touched. This may present a challenge if another toddler tries to approach and play.

Early Signs of Autism

5. Abnormal body movements

Finally, repetitive behaviors are an early sign of Autism. By toddler years, children with Autism may engage in repetitive behaviors such as flapping their arms and hands. 

These behaviors are considered self-stimulatory and could also include clicking fingers, touching an object, and making certain sounds. 

Arm flapping may occur when the child feels sensory overload, excitement, or nervousness. 

Toe walking is also common among children with Autism, however, this is not considered atypical until after 2-3 years of age.

Want to learn more? Check these articles out, too: 

Delayed language skills, poor eye contact, echoing words, lacking interactive play skills, and arm flapping are all early signs of Autism. 

Signs of Autism later in life may also include difficulty forming friendships, poor social skills, and a lack of empathy. 

Discuss any concerns for your child’s development with your pediatrician. Early diagnosis and intervention allow children on the Autism Spectrum an opportunity to improve speech, social skills, self-regulation, and quality of life.

As a licensed counselor and registered nurse, Katy approaches freelance writing with years of experience and a unique perspective. Alongside her partner, Katy loves to travel the world and embrace other cultures from volcanoes in Iceland to villages in India. 

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