Autism and Children: At What Age Can You Spot the First Signs?

Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can manifest as early as infancy but usually appear within the first three years of life. This article will discuss the signs of autism in both younger and older children, how to check for them, and when to see a healthcare provider.

Key takeaways:
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    Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) usually begins before age three, with some children showing signs as early as infancy.
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    The best way to check for signs of ASD in your child is to observe them closely for unusual behavior or lack of meeting developmental milestones.
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    Signs of ASD in young children may include poor social interaction, poor verbal and nonverbal communication skills, repetitive or restrictive movements, and unusual or overly disruptive behaviors.
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    Signs of ASD in older children may include struggling to make friends, difficulty empathizing or understanding others, borderline-obsessive interests, unusual speech habits, and the need to maintain a strict routine.
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    If you have any concerns about the way your child is behaving or speaking, reach out to your child’s healthcare provider immediately.

Autism Spectrum Disorder in children

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by a difference in brain structure. As the name implies, the physical and mental abilities of children with ASD can vary widely. ASD cannot be cured, but there are therapies and treatments available to improve quality of life and foster independence.

When do autism signs usually appear?

ASD usually begins before the age of three, with some children displaying signs before their first birthday. However, it is important to remember that some autistic children display more subtle signs of the disorder while other autistic children will display more obvious signs. Therefore, it can be quite difficult to spot the signs of ASD in some children, resulting in later diagnosis and intervention.

The easiest way to check for autism signs in your child is to observe their behavior closely and consistently. It is also recommended that you familiarize yourself with your child’s expected developmental milestones so that you will know if your child is not meeting them. Finally, keeping a log of your child’s unusual behaviors may also be helpful.

Autism signs by child's age

Signs of ASD can vary based on the child’s age. This is because the child’s developmental and behavioral expectations change as they get older.

Signs of autism in toddlers and younger children may include:

  • Avoiding eye contact.
  • Not responding to their name.
  • Not smiling back when you smile at them.
  • Seeming overly sensitive to certain smells, sounds, visuals, or textures.
  • Repetitive movements (flapping arms, rocking, spinning, swaying, etc.).
  • Delayed language skills.
  • Not displaying signs of joy in playing or interacting with others, even parents/caregivers/siblings.
  • Lack of pretend play.
  • Hyperactive, impulsive, or inattentive behavior.
  • Toe walking past the age of three.

Signs of autism in older children may include:

  • Finding it difficult to express themselves.
  • Not seeming to understand the thoughts or feelings of others.
  • Unusual speech, such as repetitiveness or talking to themselves.
  • Insisting on a strict daily routine (and becoming upset if it changes).
  • Having an overly keen interest in certain subjects or activities.
  • Finding it difficult to make friends.
  • Taking things very literally; i.e. failing to understand metaphors, sarcasm, etc.

It is important to remember that the signs and symptoms of ASD can vary greatly between children. Not all children will have the same symptoms as other children. Nevertheless, there is usually a noticeable difference in the way autistic children socialize, communicate, and behave. These behaviors can often seem unusual or disruptive to others.

When should you be concerned?

If your child is displaying signs of autism, regardless of their age, it is important that you reach out to your child’s healthcare provider right away. Evidence shows that early intervention for ASD can make a big difference in your child’s development and quality of life.


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