More kids in the US are being identified as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

In 2022, 1 in 44 children, or 2.3%, were identified as having ASD, an increase from 1 in 54 in 2020. Growing awareness and identification of autism means it’s even more important for parents to understand the condition and how to recognize the early indicators that their child might have it.

Suppose you have questions or worries about your child’s development or want to understand more about autism. In that case, knowing about the early signs and how an autistic child might differ from other children is important. Recognizing the early signs can help you get the right support for your child earlier. This article provides more information about the early signs of autism and what you can do if you think your child might have ASD.

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What is autism?

Autism is a developmental disability that can have a wide range of different signs and symptoms. Differences within the brain cause it, and it is something a person is born with rather than a condition they develop spontaneously. While many people show signs of autism early on, some do not show indicators until they are much older. The severity of autism differs between people, and people with the condition will show different signs and symptoms. This can make it challenging to diagnose.

People who have autism might find social interaction and communication more challenging than other people do. Sensory processing can be challenging for some autistic people, who may become quickly overwhelmed with a lot of stimulation. Some people with autism have highly specific interests or behavior patterns and may need more rigid routines than most. Often people who do not have ASD may show some of the characteristics of ASD, but living with these characteristics and symptoms is typically much more challenging for autistic people.

Autism is a lifelong condition, and there is no cure or treatment for it. People with this condition can lead a full and fulfilling life but might need additional support. The amount of support they need and the exact resources needed will vary between different individuals.

Common signs of autism

There are several different common signs of autism that you can look out for in your child. Identifying the signs can be challenging because their severity can vary drastically. The symptoms that an autistic child shows can also vary a lot. If your child exhibits several of these signs and symptoms, it will likely be worth investigating whether your child has ASD. These are some of the most common indicators of autism.

Social signs

People with autism often have difficulties with social interaction. Some of the indicators of autism in children that relate to social interaction are:

  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • May not make appropriate facial expressions
  • Maybe less responsive to a parent’s facial expressions
  • May not show interesting objects to parents or respond to parents sharing objects
  • Trouble making friends
  • Being unable to show empathy or concern for others
  • Trouble understanding how other people feel

Communication signs

As well as social interaction, some autistic people have delayed speech or find communication more challenging than others. Some signs of autism relating to communication skills are:

  • Delays in developing speech
  • Little interest in communication
  • May not respond to their name
  • Repeats others without understanding the meaning
  • May not begin conversations or indicate their needs
  • May regress and lose previously developed language skills
  • Less likely to participate in storytelling play
  • May have a particularly good memory, especially for letters, numbers, or songs

Behavioral signs

Some unusual behaviors are common in people with autism. Some of the behavioral signs of autism in children are:

  • Rocking, spinning, or flapping hands
  • Likes routine and finds disruptions and transitions difficult
  • May be obsessed with a few particular activities and might repeat them frequently
  • May be very sensitive or not at all sensitive to light, touch, sound, etc
  • May look at objects from unusual angles
  • Not crying when in pain
  • Showing no fear
  • Playing with part of a toy rather than the whole toy

Development for children with autism

Children who have autism often develop at a different rate from children who don’t have it. They might reach important developmental milestones at a different pace than other children. It’s wise to be aware of the major childhood milestones so you can check whether your child is developing at the usual rate. Knowing some of the differences in how autistic children develop can also help you to identify whether your child might have ASD.

12 months

At 12 months, a child developing as expected will turn when they hear their name being called. A child with ASD may not respond to their name, even when it is called several times. Despite this, they will respond to other sounds around them.

18 months

At 18 months, children usually develop more speech and an interest in communication. A child with delayed speech skills will use other means to try to communicate, such as pointing, making gestures, and using facial expressions. A child with autism might not attempt to compensate for their lack of speech. Their speech may be limited to repeating things they’ve just heard.

24 months

At 24 months, a child will usually bring pictures or objects that they’re interested in a parent and interact with them together. Children with ASD might bring an object to a parent for practical reasons, for example, when they need the parent to open something but may not interact with the parent or share the object with them.

What to do if you think your child is autistic

If you suspect that your child could be autistic, it’s important to pay close attention to their behavior and development. Doing this helps you identify the signs of ASD your child is showing. If you recognize indicators of autism, then it’s important to consult with your pediatrician as soon as possible.

Before your appointment, it’s a good idea to make a checklist of the milestones your child has already reached and your reasons for being concerned. Your doctor can check your child’s development and screen for autism if necessary. If you get an autism diagnosis, medical professionals can help you get the right support and resources for your child.

Recognizing the signs of autism in children

It can be alarming if you suspect your child is developing more slowly than they should be or if you think they have ASD. Getting a diagnosis earlier can make things easier, so knowing the signs and symptoms of autism is useful. It’s important to remember that if you have any worries about your child’s progress, speaking to your doctor is always a smart decision. Keeping an eye out for the signs and seeking help for any concerns can help your child to stay happy and healthy as they grow up.