Detecting Signs of Autism in Babies & Children

It is a difficult process for a parent to come to terms with the fact that their child may have a form of autism. Some parents are tuned in to the fact that their child may have some form of developmental disability and may suspect that their child is different.

For others, it may be difficult to decipher the signs and symptoms that indicate that a child may have autism. The child’s educators and other family members may provide insights that lead parents to suspect that their child has autism. But what are the symptoms of autism in infants? How can you tell if a child may be on the autism spectrum? Before we continue, it is important to understand that diagnosing a child with autism is the job of a professional, and autism may manifest itself in many different ways.

When do Early Signs of Autism Begin to Appear?

Parents often wonder at what age they may begin noticing signs that their child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. Every child is different, and the signs may appear at different developmental stages. A study titled: The Onset of Autism: Patterns of Symptom Emergence in the First Years of Life suggests that around age 2, many of the indicators will be present to help parents recognize that their child may be on the autism spectrum.

The most common method of autism detection method of autism is to measure a child’s development against normative developmental milestones that are common for children in the same age group. Below are some of the most common early signs of autism in babies and children.

Impaired Social Interactions

Many young undiagnosed autistic children display impaired social interactions that indicate that they are not developing the same way other children of their age group are. To diagnose a child as having an ASD, they will display at least 2 of the following autism symptoms.

  • Impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors (eye gaze, facial expression, body postures)
  • Failure to develop peer relationships
  • Lack of sharing enjoyment
  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity

Impaired Ability to Communicate

Underdeveloped communication skills may be an early sign of autism. Children who are diagnosed with ASD may display the following communication developmental delays:

  • Delay or total lack of spoken language (also known as nonverbal autism)
  • Marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • Stereotyped or repetitive use of language
  • Lack of varied spontaneous play

Patterns and Repetitive Stimming Behavior

Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviors

A child with ASD may choose not to talk, or they may repeat things they have heard. Often times they will repeat lines from movies, games, or media that they enjoy. They may choose to watch the same movie or listen to the same music repeatedly. This is known by some as “stimming behavior.” Stimming is short for self-stimulatory behavior and refers to repetitive behaviors such as repeating phrases or twirling fingers. 

Activities that revolve around preoccupations and their Interests

Autism Spectrum Disorders in Small Children may manifest as a  fascination with certain objects like trains, shapes, or toys. These fascinations may change over time, or develop as the child grow older. For example, a child with ASD may take great comfort in watching buildings being built. This may lead to an interest in blueprints or building plans later in life.

Inflexibility with Routines and Schedules

A child with autism may become agitated when you drive them on a different route than usual. Or perhaps the child becomes anxious about the placement of their toys in certain locations. A well-demonstrated symptom of autism is agitation at any disruption in routine. For children in the classroom, this may result in tantrums around irregular schedules, presentations, or delays. Mealtime can be difficult for a child with autism because of a strong preference for familiar foods and schedules. For additional resources on mealtimes and snacks read our blog post on Healthy Snacks for Kids with Autism and for help with nightime routines, check out our Autism Sleep Routine article.

Repetitive Motor Mannerisms

Repetitive Motor Mannerisms can manifest themselves in many different ways. Some commonly repeated motions that children with an ASD make can include head tilting, blinking, shaking, or waving.

Get in Touch!


If you have noticed any of these signs in your children, and for more information and resources about children with ASD please call us at (801) 581-0194.