If you notice that your child is experiencing delays or is behaving differently from kids, as a parent you may be thinking to yourself, does my child have autism? It can be so hard to know what is “normal” and what could indicate an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Luckily, there are symptoms and signs of autism that parents should look out for. With enough awareness, parents can help their autistic children receive early intervention treatment. These early warning signs include sensory issues, repetitive movements, delayed communication skills, difficulties making eye contact or maintaining conversations with others, and social isolation. If you recognize any of these signs in your child and would like to learn more information about what therapies and assessments we offer for autism, please contact Side by Side Therapy to set up a no-charge consultation today.
When Do the First Signs of Autism Appear?
Signs of autism become noticeable around 18 months of age. Typically, parents begin to notice if their child starts missing speech milestones or if they’re not picking up on social cues as well as their peers or siblings. Children as early as 6 months can start to show symptoms of autism. Let’s talk about 10 early signs of autism to look out for:
1. Avoids Eye Contact
Avoiding eye contact is very common in autism. If you notice your baby is not making eye contact by 6 months of age, this may be a sign of autism. Avoiding eye contact gets carried into adulthood sometimes, so you may notice autistic people of all ages engage in this behaviour. The reason for not making eye contact is different for each person. Understanding social cues from a person’s eyes can be challenging for an autistic person. This can be overwhelming and make them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes they have a hard time focusing on making eye contact and listening to what someone is saying to them at the same time. Therefore, even if they are not making eye contact with you when you are speaking to them, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not listening to you.
2. Lacks Response to Other’s Voices
If you notice your child doesn’t respond to or look at someone when they’re being spoken to, this may be a sign of autism. Many parents assume this behaviour is associated with their child having hearing issues. Over time, it becomes clearer that the child can hear fine and instead their behavior has more to do with being withdrawn. When you’re trying to talk to an autistic child, they probably don’t seem engaged in the conversation and won’t respond in a timely manner. For example, your child doesn’t respond to their name when it’s being called. Autistic people are also more sensitive to sounds and have a hard time filtering out these noises. This means that they may be distracted by the sounds around them and are struggling to pay attention to the person talking to them.
3. Hand Flapping
One of the many signs of autism is stimming. Stimming is when a person repeats the same action over and over again. An example of this is hand flapping. Autistic children do this as a form of stimming, which is calming for them. Sometimes, autistic children also flap their hands when they get very excited or feel other strong emotions, like stress. It is common for some children to flap their hands, but make sure to pay attention to how long they’re doing this. If the child stops hand flapping around the age of 3, there’s no reason to worry. With children that hand flap all the time, take note that this may be an indicator of autism.
4. Frequently Walking on Tip Toes
Another type of stimming is frequently walking on tip toes. Instead of walking on their entire foot, they prefer to walk on their tippy toes and if you notice your child is doing this all the time, it may be a sign of autism. There are a few reasons why an autistic child prefers to walk on the tips of their toes. If the child has sensory issues, they may feel uncomfortable putting all their weight on the surface of the floor Although this behavior is often harmless, it can still put the child at risk of injury because they could lose their balance and fall. Both Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists are qualified to develop strategies to help reduce toe walking.
5. Trouble Controlling Emotions
If you’re a parent and have been out in public with your child, there have probably been incidents where your child gets fussy or throws a tantrum. For an autistic person, these tantrum behaviors can be more intense and last for long periods of time. Usually, the fussiness isn’t a result of not getting access to a toy or treat, rather it can be happening because of the bright and loud conditions of the public space, which can lead to them experiencing a sensory overload. A typical tantrum lasts only a few minutes, while a sensory tantrum can last hours.
6. Aggressive Behaviour
Aggressive behavior is another indicator of autism. Autistic children can be more aggressive than others and sometimes there’s no clear reason as to why they behave like this. If the autistic child is used to getting a strong response from others when they’re aggressive, sometimes it increases the chances of them acting this way again. Another example is if the child has previously been able to receive access to something they want, such as a toy, by acting aggressive towards others. If the child realizes that they can get what they want through aggression, they will most likely continue to behave this way. Therefore, it’s important that interventions, like Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), targets aggressive behaviour as early as possible, to prevent injury to themselves and others.
7. Rigid Play
You may notice that your child plays a little differently than their peers. Perhaps, they’re a little rigid in their play routines. This means that they prefer to play with their toys in a certain way and may repeat the same play actions over and over again. For example, you may notice your child lines up all their toys in a row, or repeatedly spins them. Most likely, they will play with the same toys all the time and rarely switch them up. When autistic children play with their preferred toys, most of the time they are playing by themselves, almost as if they are in their own little world.
8. Issues with Food and Textures
Problems with food, textures or clothes is also common for autistic people. Being a picky eater is something an autistic child may experience due to their sensory related issues. These sensory issues relate to the taste, smell, texture, and look of the food item. Certain textures of food, like pudding, may not be appetizing for them. They may even be particular about their foods not touching each other. Remember that these sensory issues are different in every autistic child. If your child doesn’t like the food, it can be very challenging for a parent to get the child to eat it. Being sensitive to textures is not always related to food though.
Clothes can also be an issue for autistic kids. Sometimes they don’t like the feeling of the material rubbing against their skin. Clothing tags can also be irritating. To avoid these sensory issues, parents can try different clothing materials. For example, switching to seamless materials for socks and underwear. Tagless shirts are a great idea as well however, if you can’t find any you can always flip the shirt inside out.
9. Delayed Speech
Lack of speech and communication are big signs of autism. It is not uncommon for autistic children to miss speech milestones. Autistic children sometimes develop speech later than their peers. By the age of 3, if your child has not started speaking yet, start paying attention to potential speech delays for them. If the child is older than 3 years of age and still has limited speech, we recommend reaching out to your doctor or a Speech-Language Pathologist to help.
10. Repeating Words and Phrases
Another common sign of autism in speech, is when the child repeats words and phrases over and over again. This is called echolalia, meaning the echoing of words. This sometimes happens because it’s a form of stimming and helps them feel calm. In addition, it is a way to communicate if they are learning to speak. Both ABA therapy and Speech-Language Pathology help with improving an autistic child’s communication skills.
How Do I Know if My Child has Autism?
In conclusion, there are many early symptoms and signs of autism for parents to recognize. Although we only touched on a few indicators of autism, we hope this helps parents have a better understanding of what to pay attention to if you think your child has autism. The sooner these signs of autism are recognized, the better. With intervention, autistic children can learn skills to develop independence and self-care. Parents should consult their pediatrician for more information on diagnosis and treatment options if they recognize these early signs of autism in their child. If you would like to learn more about ABA therapy, Speech Therapy, and Occupational Therapy, please contact Side by Side Therapy to set up a no-charge consultation.