Home Health Autism symptoms in children: Early signs and when they start showing

Autism symptoms in children: Early signs and when they start showing


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects the brain, leading to difficulties with social communication and interaction, as well as restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests.

Symptoms can start to appear in children as young as 12 to 18 months, sometimes even earlier, reports the Mirror.

Typical early signs include issues with eye contact, lack of response to their name, trouble following another person’s gaze or pointed finger to an object, poor skills in pretend play and imitation, and problems with nonverbal communication.

While ASD is usually diagnosed when children are three years old or older, healthcare professionals can sometimes spot developmental issues earlier. Early identification and intervention can lead to improved outcomes.

Individuals with ASD may display behaviours or interests that seem unusual. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, provides examples of restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests related to ASD:

  • Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when the order is changed.
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (called echolalia).
  • Plays with toys the same way every time.
  • Is focused on parts of objects (for example, wheels).
  • Gets upset by minor changes.
  • Has obsessive interests.
  • Must follow certain routines.
  • Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles.
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel.

By 12 months of age, HealthyChildren.org states that most children can immediately look in the direction of an object a parent is pointing at. They will then look back at the parent and mimic the parent’s expression, usually a smile.

However, children on the autism spectrum may appear to ignore the parent, which can cause parents to worry about their child’s hearing.

By the tender age of nine months, most infants will display a range of facial expressions such as happiness, sadness, anger, or surprise, and engage in simple interactive games like pat-a-cake.

However, by 15 months, most toddlers can point to objects they desire that are out of reach. Yet, a child on the autism spectrum may instead guide a parent’s hand to the object without making significant eye contact, sometimes even placing the parent’s hand directly on the object.

By the time they reach 18 months, most children will point at objects that intrigue them, often looking back and forth between an object and a parent to ensure the parent is engaged with what they are observing.

However, children on the autism disorder spectrum often point to an object because they want a parent to retrieve it for them, not because they want the parent to share in the experience of looking at the object.

As they approach their second birthday, most children enjoy observing each other play and may even mimic one another. Yet, children on the autism disorder spectrum often do not react when others are hurt or upset by 24 months of age.

They may notice other children and join them in play by 36 months of age.

Furthermore, they also may not engage in pretend play, such as pretending to be a teacher or superhero, by 48 months of age. By 60 months of age, they may not sing, dance, or perform for you.

It’s crucial to remember that autism is a spectrum, meaning everyone with autism is unique.

Autism affects individuals differently, with some requiring little to no support, while others may need daily assistance from a parent or caregiver. Signs of autism can be detected at a very young age, or they might not become apparent until later in life.

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