Autism is a condition that is growing awareness and diagnosis. “What if my child is on the Autism spectrum?” is a question on every parent of small children’s mind. There is evidence that shows that the earlier the child is diagnoses the more effective treatment can be, but how soon is too soon? What are the early signs that your child may benefit from an assessment? Let’s look at early signs of Autism and what an assessment may look like for a child showing early signs of Autism.

There is a common misconception about Autism, Autism does not “just appear”. Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition, which means that if your child is on the Autism spectrum, they were born with the condition. It seems as though signs may just appear because only once a child begins to develop, can we see signs.

Signs within Social Interactions:

Little to no eye contact
General dislike of being held, cuddled, or touched
Responds to social interaction, but rarely initiates conversations
Extreme social preferences (clings to peers or isolates from peers)
Difficulty understanding jokes, body language, or basic rules of conversation
Minimal acknowledgement of others or what is going on around them
Makes honest but inappropriate conversations

Signs within Language:

Abnormally loud or quiet
Difficulty whispering
Abnormal use of pitch, rhythms or stress while speaking
Repeating names in a musical tone
Excessively repeating a name within conversation

Emotional signs:

Sensitivity to sounds, touch, smell, or light
Usually high or low pain tolerance
Difficulty with loud or sudden sounds
Becomes overwhelmed with too much verbal instruction
Resists change in environments
Sensitivities with meals: Food textures, foods touching on the plate, arranged a particular way

Behavioral Signs:

Obsession with objects or ideas
Ritualistic or compulsive behaviors (spinning, rocking, tapping, flapping arms, sniffing)
Repetitive play
Unusual perfectionism
Needs to fix or arrange things
Motor Skills Delayed (riding bike, tying shoes, running, using scissors)
Verbal Outbursts

Educational Signs:

Highly skilled in one area, but very low in others
Excellent memory
Reading comprehension struggles
Can’t use scissors, glue or difficulty printing letters
Short attention span
Difficulty transitioning from one lesson to another

Physical signs:

Walks on toes or without moving arms
Rigid or floppy posture
Digestion and GI issues (constipation, gas, burping, vomiting)
Appearance of hearing problems but hearing is fine

Read with Caution:

Because most of the above-listed signs can be read as general experiences, this list should be viewed as a tool for consideration and not taken as a diagnosis tool. What parent hasn’t experienced a picky toddler at dinner time? Of course small children are going to have short attention spans! If you are reading through this list and many of these behaviours describe your child, then perhaps the next step is a professional assessment or conversation with your GP. Sometimes it’s a good idea to even ask a mature and mindful friend for their opinion on your child’s general development.

The assessment process may consist of many varying assessments or checklists. Psychologists may use tools such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) to help understand development along with parental reports, teacher reports etc, but keep in mind that these tools may not identify every child on the spectrum, especially for those who may have milder signs. It is also possible that the outcome of your assessment will call for “watchful waiting”, which essentially means that your practitioner wants to see if symptoms change as they develop further. Although signs of Autism Spectrum disorder can be seen as early as 18 months old, it is very rare to have a diagnosis for children under the age of 2 as many of these signs are not observable until your child matures. No matter the age of your child, keep an eye out for these signs throughout their development but also be mindful of how normal it is as a parent to worry about your children.

Understanding Autism and early intervention can be incredibly beneficial for both the child and parents. If you would like to talk to a psychologist about ASD, call us on (02) 6262 6157 or book an appointment online.

Related reading:

What is Autism?
Understanding Nonverbal Learning Disorder
IQ Scores: What are they? What do they mean?