July 13


What are the Early Signs of Autism?

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

July 13, 2022

autism, autism in children, autism signs, autism symptoms

Autism is a developmental impairment that falls under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. People with ASD may behave, talk, and learn in ways that other people don’t, and the types of symptoms and their severity can vary wildly from person to person. Parents of young children want to know if their child might be on the spectrum, and if so, what specific accommodations they might need to thrive. Here’s an overview of the early signs of autism.

What Are the Early Signs of Autism?

Autism in children
Image by Marisa Howenstine is licensed with Unsplash License

As a developmental issue, autism nearly always appears early in life, usually before two years. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t diagnosed until after that time. Some will exhibit signs as infants or toddlers, while others don’t show signs until age two or three.

ASD can be indicated by many symptoms, and a child on the Autism spectrum is unlikely to display all of them. Expert assessment may be needed, as showing one or more of the traits below doesn’t guarantee autism. Here’s a look at the signs of autism or ASD over different ages.

One Year or Younger

Within six months old, a child with Autism may smile or express positive emotions less often. Eye contact may become inconsistent or reduced. By nine months, it’s possible to show signs like limited or repetitive gestures or vocalizations. At the 12-month mark, a child developing ASD might not react very strongly to their name. There might be little or no expressive motions like waving, reaching, pointing, or trying to show people things.

Two Years or Younger

Between 16 and 24 months, a child develops their speech and social skills, including words and when/how to use them. During this period, a child developing autism or ASD could show signs like using very few words to explain something. The child might not like things being repeated or not enjoy activities that involve imitation, or might enjoy them more than others.

Beyond Two Years

Having a particular fondness or distaste for specific things, like certain textures, smells, sounds, or colors, or performing repetitive actions as a way to relax, is a common sign of ASD throughout a child’s development. Other examples can include:

  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Playing differently or in specific ways, like organizing toys.
  • Difficulty following instructions, or taking things too literally.
  • Low interest in playing with others.
  • Communication with very few, small words.
  • Repeatedly talking about or working on the same interests.
  • Difficulty expressing their feelings.
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings.

An autistic child might have limited interests and feel more “settled in” to their tastes compared to other children their age. Their perception, comprehension, or focus on the emotions of others might seem limited or inconsistent, and as they go through school, they may fall behind in language development.

When to Seek Professional Help

The commonly recommended screening test points for autism are at 18 months and 24 months. Other experts give windows to compare your child’s development to others their age at 9 months, 18 months, and then 24 or 30 months of age.

As soon as you feel concerns about a developmental or interpersonal issue for your child is when we recommend getting professional answers. NeuroHealth Arlington Heights provides psychological services and support to parents, including accurate testing methods for neurocognitive issues, neurodevelopment issues, attention disorders, ASD, Asperger’s syndrome, and more.

How Is Autism Identified?

There is no traditional medical test, such as blood testing, for a developmental disorder like autism. It’s important to track emotional and cognitive changes over time. Diagnosis for children generally involves two phases: a developmental screening leading up to a follow-up test on another milestone. For instance, a child might have a developmental screening at 9 months followed by an ASD test at the 18-month milestone.

If more thorough testing can help answer questions, hearing and vision exams may be the next step. Some parents also try genetic testing, such as for chromosomal microarray or CMA, when missing or additional chromosomal parts exist that could cause ASD.

Steps for Parents

The autism spectrum contains many disorders that share some of the same traits. Some traits can also be mistaken for bad behavior or being spoiled, leading to punishments that don’t improve the situation. As a parent, you are in the best position to detect the first indications of autism. You know your child better than anybody else and can observe habits and oddities that a pediatrician would miss during a short appointment.

Your child’s pediatrician can be an invaluable resource, but don’t underestimate the value of your observations and expertise. The goal is to educate yourself about the early signs of autism and your child as a person so you understand what’s regular and what isn’t. Here are some helpful guidelines:

Keep Track of Your Child’s Growth

One good way to keep track of your child’s development is to check milestones. When your child should be reaching a certain milestone, like their first words, and hasn’t yet, it could be an early sign of autism.

Every child grows at a different rate, so don’t be concerned if your child is a bit slow to talk or walk. When it comes to healthy development, what’s considered normal is often broader than people think. However, if your child is clearly not hitting the developmental milestones for his or her age, or you suspect a problem, contact your child’s doctor or an appropriate nearby health clinic.

Don’t Take a Wait-and-See Approach

Autism is not an illness, but it can unpredictably influence or impair emotional or cognitive development, and this could compromise aspects of your child’s life. It can also be difficult for a child with ASD when people misinterpret their behavior as aloof or disinterested, hurting their potential to enjoy a happy social life.

If you wait and see when you have concerns, you risk wasting important time when your child has the highest possibility of improving. Ideas like “they’ll grow out of it” can be ill-informed and delay possible therapeutic treatment.

Schedule an Appointment for Your Assessment Today

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights offers parents in the Chicago, IL area a network of support that goes well beyond the latest treatments. Learn more about our neuropsychological testing process for children and young adults of different ages. We can accommodate a weekend appointment and our services are covered by most insurance providers.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.