Autism Signs in Toddlers. How to Check for Them?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition involving a difference in brain structure that results in varying degrees of developmental disability. This article will discuss the signs of ASD in toddlers, how to check for them, and when to see a healthcare provider.

Key takeaways:
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    Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an uncurable condition resulting in various degrees of developmental disability.
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    Signs of ASD in toddlers include poor social interaction, poor verbal and nonverbal communication skills, repetitive or restrictive movements, and unusual or overly disruptive behaviors.
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    The best way to check for signs of ASD in your toddler is to observe them closely for unusual behavior or lack of meeting developmental milestones.
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    If you have any concerns about the way your toddler is behaving or speaking, reach out to your child’s healthcare provider immediately.

What is autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by a difference in brain structure. Although the causes of ASD are not fully understood, evidence suggests that there are certain risk factors for developing the disorder, including having a sibling with ASD, certain genetic conditions, birth complications, and being born to older parents. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is four times more common among boys than girls.

People with ASD usually behave and communicate in ways that are different from those without the disorder. For example, people with ASD often have difficulty with social interactions or may engage in restricted or repetitive behaviors. They may also have different ways of learning, moving their bodies, or paying attention compared to those without ASD.

As the name implies, the physical and mental abilities of people with ASD can vary widely. For example, some people with ASD noticeably struggle with daily activities or they may be nonverbal. Others are quite independent, working and living with little to no support.

There is no cure for ASD. Treatment is focused on reducing symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and quality of life. ASD affects each child differently, so it is important that their treatment plan is tailored to meet their specific needs.

Signs of autism in toddlers

ASD usually begins before the age of three, with some children displaying signs prior to their first birthday. It is important to remember that the signs and symptoms of ASD can vary greatly between toddlers and not all children will have the same symptoms, as other children. Nevertheless, there is usually a noticeable difference in the way children with ASD socialize, communicate, and behave. These behaviors can often seem unusual or disruptive to others.

Examples of signs of autism specifically in toddlers 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 when playing or interacting with others, even parents/caregivers/siblings.
  • Lack of pretend play.
  • Hyperactive, impulsive, or inattentive behavior.

Please keep in mind this list is non-exhaustive. Toddlers with ASD may not have all or any of the behaviors listed above.

Ways to check for autism signs

The best way to check for autism signs is to simply be present and closely observe your child’s behavior. Watch the way they act in social situations and ask yourself: Is it typical of other children you have met or does something seem off? Familiarize yourself with expected developmental milestones by age so you will know if and when your child is not meeting them.

It may be helpful to keep a log of unusual or disruptive behavior to monitor for patterns. This can also be useful for your child’s healthcare provider if they are attempting to make a diagnosis since there is no medical test for ASD.

When should you be concerned?

If your child is consistently displaying any of the signs above or is not meeting their developmental milestones, it could be an indication of ASD. Evidence shows that early intervention for ASD can make a big difference in your child’s development. If you have any concerns about the way your toddler acts, speaks, learns, or plays, it is best to trust your instincts and seek care immediately.


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