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Signs and Symptoms of Autism in Infants and Toddlers

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Spotting the initial autism symptoms in a baby, toddler, or preschooler can be challenging. Not every child will follow the same development path nor exhibit the same symptoms at the same age. 

Young girl with Autism playing at home

At Heartlinks, we’ve worked with parents who noticed signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their babies before their first birthday. Others have not seen any indication of ASD until their child is between two and three years old. Sometimes, no one may notice a child’s symptoms until they start school.

Defined as a developmental disability that affects a child’s social and language skills, children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) usually show a variety of deficits in their ability to communicate and interact with others.

Yet what can’t be defined is the exact age or period in a child’s life when the symptoms of autism begin to reveal themselves.  

That’s why it’s essential to know the early signs of autism in toddlers, babies, and preschoolers. So that when the symptoms of ASD become apparent, you can spot them and seek the necessary help as soon as possible.

Signs of Autism in Babies at 12 Months

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to educate yourself about a child’s developmental milestones and the early signs of autism. Knowing these things together will allow you to monitor your child, especially in infancy, for any early symptoms of autism.

Infants with autism tend to exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Doesn’t point to objects or animals at the age-appropriate time to do so (i.e., pointing to a kite or dog).
  • Only babbles occasionally or not at all.
  • Slow to smile or laugh.
  • Avoids eye contact.
  • Refuses to cuddle or be held.
  • Doesn’t respond to their name by 12 months.

Remember, your baby’s pediatrician should screen for early autism signs at every well-baby visit, such as during the 18-month and 2-year checkups.

Signs of Autism in Toddlers at 24 Months

The initial symptoms of autism in toddlers include the ones listed above and the signs below, including:

  • Would rather play alone.
  • Unable to walk by 18 months or only walks on their toes.
  • Moves spastically (i.e., flapping hands, spinning their body, and rocking back and forth).
  • Doesn’t understand the feelings of others, lacks empathy
  • Is unable to speak or does speak but in a monotone voice or unusual rhythm.
  • Repeats specific phrases or words constantly.
  • Often throws temper tantrums when a minor change in routine arises
  • Intentionally and repeatedly self-harms.

Signs of Autism in Preschoolers

A child at 36 months and beyond should be talking your ear off, almost unable to keep them quiet. They should be asking lots of questions and making observations about the world around them.

However, preschoolers with early autism will seem almost withdrawn from their world. They may be acting aloof and unable to communicate with you. Other symptoms may include:

  • Loss of the speech, babbling, or social skills they once had
  • Restricted or very limited interests (i.e., only interested in playing with cars)
  • Intense and unusual reactions to smells, tastes, sounds, lights, and textures.
  • Giving the impression they are ignoring others or refusing to interact with them.
  • Exhibiting repetitive behaviors.

What to do if you Notice the Signs of Autism in Your Child

Often parents who share with friends or family that they’ve seen initial signs of ASD in their children are told that “You’re worrying too much,” “He’s just slow,” or “She’ll be fine; just give it some time.”

If you’re noticing early signs of autism, don’t minimize your concerns. Instead, contact your medical professional. 

Or you can speak with us at Heartlinks. Our team of dedicated BCBAs can effectively evaluate your toddler and create a customized ABA therapy plan.

Most importantly, don’t delay. Report these symptoms as early as possible. Remember, noticing early signs of autism in your baby doesn’t mean it will end in an ASD diagnosis. It could be something else. 
However, if autism is possible, addressing it as early as possible is essential to get the best help your child deserves.

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