Autism-Early Signs and Diagnosis

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Early Signs

Autism (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder. ASD affects the brain’s development of social and communication skills. Autism can be detected as early as infancy. Symptoms can present differently in each child, making it hard to pinpoint an exact time when parents should become concerned about their child’s development. Early detection of autism leads to the best chance at receiving the proper interventions.

Although an early diagnosis is key to an effective treatment, research indicates that many children are not diagnosed with autism until much later than they should be. This blog post will discuss early signs of autism, diagnosis methods, and how to help children with autism.

At what age does autism usually show up?

While many autistic children are not diagnosed until 2 to 3 years old, some signs should be watched for as early as infancy. Some babies start to develop normally and then regress around 12–18 months. Other babies do not show any significant developmental progress until after this 18-month mark. If you notice no developmental milestones before two years old, contact your child’s pediatrician to discuss your concerns.

Social Communication

One of the more common early signs of autism in young children is difficulty in social communication. Some symptoms of social-communication difficulties include:

  1. Difficulty interacting with other children

2. Staring at others

3. Lack of facial expressions

4. No response to parent’s questions

5. Deficits in language skills

6. Insufficient interests in toys or activities

7. Poor eye contact when spoken to

8. Confusion how to take turns in games

Social language is an essential part of early development. Children learn how they are expected to behave in social situations using social language. The lack of social language may stem from difficulty organizing thoughts into words. Another obstacle of communication may be the shortcoming of impulse control and emotional regulation required to put words into a coherent sentence.

Communication delays can be noticed as early as infancy. Parents should be especially concerned if there is a loss of any skills such as language or play.

Regression in social skills can be an early sign of autism. This may include the loss of previously acquired languages, such as the loss of any communication, eye contact, or when a child suddenly starts spending most of his time alone rather than playing with other children.

For example, if a child has previously shown an interest in pretend play and then loses that interest altogether or a child speaks his first words at 8 months old and then stops talking altogether by the time he turns 1, it could be a sign of autism.

Communication is one of the hallmarks of social-emotional development. If your baby or toddler doesn’t speak by 18 to 24 months or if she uses no gestures to communicate contact your pediatrician and voice your concerns.

Repetitive behaviors

One of the biggest early signs of autism is repetitive behaviors. Repetitive behaviors can include:

  1. Stereotypic movements

2. Obsessive interests

3. Toy stacking

4. Lining up objects

5. Spinning objects 

Some children with autism may develop rituals or restrictions about eating or activities.

Parents should be concerned if their child seems to experience distress when routines or rituals are disrupted.

Self-stimulatory behaviors are another example of repetitive behavior that may indicate autism. If a child engages in actions that give him intense sensory feedback, such as flapping hands or tapping a pencil incessantly, he may have developmental challenges.

Other symptoms

It is also common for children with autism to prefer a specific texture over others. They may refuse to wear certain fabrics or insist on eating only foods with a particular consistency. Children with autism may also have difficulty separating once pleasurable activities from those that are now unpleasant. Self-harm behaviors, such as head banging or biting themselves, can also signify developmental differences.

If you are unsure if your child has symptoms, a great way to clarify is to ask other parents of autistic children. You can join online support groups for parents of children with autism and share your concerns of what you might think are early signs.


It’s never too late to begin the proper therapies, but the earlier it starts, the better. The first step is screening and diagnosis from a pediatrician or neurologist. A medical evaluation will then determine if your child has autism spectrum disorder. Therapy plans will depend on your child’s unique needs and abilities, but they often include one or more interventions tailored to address specific skills and development areas affected by ASD.

Often the waiting time for an official diagnosis can be quite long. Still, if your child’s developmental delays seriously affect his life, it may make sense to go for a private diagnosis. 

Trust your instincts

Trusting your intuition is very important. If you notice any abnormalities with your child’s development, always bring them to your doctor’s attention.

Remember that a doctor should err on the side of caution rather than miss an important symptom. It’s not uncommon for children with ASD to be mistakenly diagnosed with another type of disorder, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Individuals with ADHD typically become hyperactive and have trouble sitting still. Children with autism, on the other hand, can often be very quiet and may appear to spend hours playing by themselves.

As a parent, if you suspect your child has autism or another developmental disorder, trust yourself enough to push for an evaluation from a qualified professional with expertise in diagnosing ASD. In case you feel the diagnosis was not accurate, you can try another specialist or consider going private.

Therapy Options for Autism

Several autism-specific therapies can help children with ASD. Some of the most common therapies include: 

  1. Interventions to help improve communication and social skills 

2. Behavioral therapy to teach important life skills and reduce challenging behaviors 

3. Specialized occupational and speech therapy

ABA Therapy

There are many ways to help stimulate, guide and encourage positive behaviors in children who have autism. One very effective method is using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). An intervention plan using ABA can help individuals with autism become more receptive to their environment through reinforcement of appropriate behaviors. Reinforcement includes praise or other rewards that are given to increase or maintain proper behavior.

Yellow us ABA is a leader in ABA therapy throughout the Tri-State Area. Check out our Home Based ABA as well as our Nassau county and Westchester Autism clinics.

Speech Therapy

Speech and language therapy can significantly improve communication abilities, especially if given early enough in the child’s development. Children can also be taught how to use augmentative and alternative communication devices such as sign language. Social skills interventions teach autistic children how to interact with others appropriately by teaching them how to take turns or deal with impulsive outbursts. Behavior therapies use play therapy, social stories, and visual schedules to help children learn behaviors that they can then practice in real-life situations.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy and physical therapy, which are typically used for ASD children with a developmental age under two, can also help a toddler gain self-help skills such as feeding himself or dressing himself. In addition, these therapies may address motor skills difficulties, such as poor balance or coordination and sensory issues that affect a child’s ability to interact with the world around him.

It is also critical for autistic children to receive educational support and classroom accommodations through special programs and services at school. Children should be enrolled in early intervention services as soon as autism spectrum disorder is suspected.

Many children with ASD can improve their social and communication skills and lead happy and fulfilled lives through appropriate programs that address specific skill areas. Having autism does not mean that an individual is unable to live a healthy and productive life. Individuals with a diagnosis can go on to live independent, meaningful lives and hold down jobs (sometimes awesome ones- such as Elon Musk). In many cases, individuals with autism can even have successful careers in highly specialized areas.

Studies have shown that being diagnosed early and getting treatment during preschool is critical for success. For this reason, it’s essential to be aware of any developmental delays your child may have.

What Parents Can Do to Help their Child with Autism 

What Happens When Your Child has autism?

The first step is to get screening and, if your child needs it, you should get a diagnosis. You can go to an early intervention service or private doctor. Second opinions may be helpful.

After this, there are lots of different therapies that can help your child with ASD. Some focus on communication and social skills, like speech therapy and play therapy. Other therapies focus on helping your child with things like school or behaviors that they do not know how to control yet, like getting upset over small things all the time (examples of these are behavioral therapy and special education classes). 

The next step is to put your child in a school or program that understands autism. Schools have different programs, so you may need to investigate more than one choice. You can ask teachers or your child’s doctor what they know about the schools near your home.

You can also talk with other adults who have children with autism about their experiences. 

You can join our online support group Autism Parents United and meet other parents of children with ASD and get the support you will need to fly through this journey. 

Click here to join our group https://www.facebook.com/groups/autismparentsunite

Written by Asher Fried

Asher is an advocate for parents and loved ones of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He is the organizer of the Tri-State area Facebook group uniting parents of children diagnosed with ASD. To reach Asher please email Asher@yellowbusaba.com.

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