It is important to be alert for and pay attention to early signs of autism in your baby and toddler. Whilst all kids develop in their own time, it is vital that if you notice a few odd signs or suspect something is “not quite right” that you get an opinion and assessment by a paediatrician or occupational therapist.
There is a wide range of “normal” for sure and it may just be a “stage” but if you are worried, start writing down various behaviors and build up a pattern. Early treatment can make such a huge difference while your toddlers brain is still young, still learning and has neural plasticity.
As a parent, by identifying the early signs of autism- ideally by 18 months, you can seek the right support and treatment which can drastically reduce some abnormal behaviors and help your child progress.
What Are The Early Signs Of Autism?
Just one of these behaviors by itself, does not make for an Autism diagnosis. However if there is a pattern of behaviour that goes on for several weeks or months, it is wise to see a health professional like an occupational therapist and get a professional diagnosis.
Lack of Eye Contact
Babies usually start engaging with their parents eyes and facial expressions around 6-9 months. They start smiling in response to other people’s smiles and trying to copy. Babies with autism will avoid making eye contact with anyone. This is one of the classic early signs of autism that is common with anyone on the autism spectrum.
Lack of Normal Response
Another early sign of autism is lack of response when trying to get their attention. Of course teenagers do this well! But babies should respond to hearing their name called at around 10-12 months. If you notice there is no response, the first thing to do is get their hearing tested. However if this is fine, it could be an early sign of autism.
Most babies love playing “peek-a-boo” or trying to repeat and copy sounds or words that you say. Babies with autism, tend not to engage in this social behavior and ignore it.
Look for repetitive self-soothing movements(also called stimming). One of the early signs of autism that is also very distressing is head banging. Some kids do this from time to time but kids with autism will do it several times on a daily basis.
Some kids head banging gets so aggressive that they need to be put in a soft helmet to stop them injuring themselves. Some toddlers bang their head on their high chair, some will bang their head on a wall or on the floor. It can be extremely upsetting for parents. Try to distract their attention to some other activity.
Here are some other repetitive stimming behaviors:
- Hand flapping
- Rocking back and forth
- Spinning in a circle
- Finger flicking
- Snapping fingers
- Spinning objects
- Flicking light switches on and off
- Tapping ears
- Lining up toys
- Repeating words or noises
Here is a great video that shows some of these behaviors in action:
Rigid Attachment To Routines
A classic sign of autism is love of strict routines and the lack of ability to adapt to changes in routine. Observe how your child responds to changes in routine. A child with autism will frequently exhibit a major meltdown.
At around 12 months, you may notice your child is unusually sensitive to loud noises and bright lights. Many times they hate being cuddled or touched. And often they under –react to pain. Many are “picky” eaters and hate certain foods based on textures or smells. This goes for clothes as well-sometimes they cannot bear certain texture of clothes and wont wear a certain t-shirt or sweater because of the texture.
Do they fixate excessively on a certain object to the exclusion of other people, even other toddlers?
Lack Of Social Engagement
By 12 months, most babies should be pointing, grasping objects, waving and making sounds attempting to speak. Babies or toddlers with autism generally will not.
Lower Word Count
More early signs of autism include slower speech development. By 18 months, most babies can say about 12-20 words. By 2 years, they are putting together 2 word phrases. Toddlers with autism will not be making as much progress with speech.
Watch out for regression. Some children with autism progress normally until 18-24 months, then stop progressing as normal. Or sometimes they may regress in speech and behaviour. Regression- loss of social interaction and loss of speech is a major red flag for autism. Watch out for it and take it seriously.
Abnormal ways of moving
Watch out for general posture when looking for early signs of autism. Toddlers with autism may sit or stand with abnormal posture. They may be excessively clumsy or walk exclusively on tippy toes even up to the age of 5yrs.
What To Do If Your Child Shows Early Signs Of Autism
If your child exhibits a few of these early signs of autism over a decent time period, do not put your head in the sand and “hope they grow out of it”. Of course many children develop at different times and there is a wide range of what is considered “normal”.
Certainly there is no need to panic. But do talk you’re your doctor or occupational therapist, get further investigation and an autism screening.
If your child does have autism, early treatment can make a huge difference in helping them to develop normally. It is in infancy when the brain is still developing and has greatest plasticity.