This topic is near and dear to my heart, as we have been struggling for nearly three years to discover if our 3-year-old has autism or not. It’s been a long journey that isn’t over yet (we still don’t have answers), but because we knew some of the early symptoms of autism (and didn’t take no for an answer), we were able to get early intervention help for Buki that made a big difference for him.
If you are a parent wondering if your child has autism: welcome. You are among friends. It can be scary and daunting to think about the possibility, but your child will remain your amazing wonderful child, whether there’s a label like “autism” attached or not. But the thing about autism is that the earlier it is treated, the better it is for your child. So it’s best to know and do something about it as soon as you can.
I’m going to first list the more “obvious” early signs of autism that you might find on any website. But then I’m going to share some of the more subtle signs we saw in my boy that clued us in that something was going on. I hope it helps!
If you see some of these signs in your child or you have worries about your child’s development, please take action! If your child is under 3-years-old, contact the Early Intervention program in your state (if you don’t know what yours is, this Early Intervention Contacts page should help). If your child is over three, contact your school district. These two resources will test your child free of charge and then help you treat your child if it is warranted.
Here are some of the main symptoms of autism in toddlers and babies:
- Not smiling or happy expressions by age 6 months
- No interaction back and forth with caregivers by sharing smiles, sounds, or facial expressions by 9 months
- Not responding to his/her name by 12 months
- Not speaking words by age 16 months
- Not using two-word phrases by 24 months (repeating words back to you doesn’t count – it must be a meaningful interaction)
- Doesn’t make eye contact with you
- Doesn’t point at objects or wave goodbye
- Doesn’t try to get your attention or respond to your attention
- Doesn’t imitate your facial expression
- Has a loss of speech or social skills
So those are some of the big indicators. But here’s the thing. My son, did most of those things listed above. He was, in fact, hitting milestones early. He was talking up a storm by the time he was 15 months old. And he did interact with us and smile and make eye contact with us. But we still knew that something was off. Here are some of the things we did notice about our boy that clued us in to the possibility of autism:
- He did eventually learn how to wave bye bye, but we had to work with him pretty strongly on it, and it didn’t seem to come naturally to him.
- He ignored us a lot. He did respond to his name, but only after calling it several times.
- At around age 1, he stopped smiling. Before then, he was the smiliest baby in the world. But at age 1, he became serious and austere.
- He had some “sensory” issues: He was deathly afraid of anything that made noise – the vacuum, the blow drier, the blender. This lasted LONG after most kids get over it (as in, he’s 3 now and still runs from the room when I pull out the vacuum). He also had to touch anything that looked like it had a texture. He climbed all over us and banged into us, so much so that I could tell he needed to do it.
- He could speak a lot of words (by 18 months he was saying over 150 words), but we noticed that he wasn’t really interacting with us verbally very much. We would ask him a simple question and he would totally ignore us.
- We also noticed that he was memorizing books and cartoons. At around 20 months, he could repeat back verbatim a Sesame Street skit he saw a few days ago.
- Also around 20-22 months, we noticed that he had memorized the entire alphabet and could not only recognize each letter, but also knew some of the sounds they made. We never taught him or coached him on this.
- His obsession with numbers and letters became…all-encompassing. At about 24 months, I would take him to a grocery store, and he pointed out every single number and letter he saw.
These are some of the main autism symptoms in toddlers that we saw in our boy. We weren’t at all sure that these things meant autism, but we didn’t want to take any chances. Early Intervention came and evaluated him at age 2, and although they didn’t diagnose him, they provided us with speech therapy, occupational therapy, and a lot of support. We saw many improvements in his speech and development that year, and we’re very thankful we called the Early Intervention team – despite what my doctor said, “He’s fine.”
Don’t listen to friends, family, or even the pediatrician if you suspect a developmental delay in your child. Listen to yourself. Nobody knows your child like you do. And the earlier you seek intervention, the higher chance you have of making a huge difference for your child. If you suspect your child may be showing some of the early symptoms of autism, seek help immediately. Call the Early Intervention program in your state for under 3 years old, and call your school district for 3 and up.