Your parental antennas are up, and you’re concerned that your child may be struggling. It may seem hard to connect with them. Maybe they aren’t communicating like other kids their age. You may be struggling with tantrums that escalate quickly with or without apparent cause. You’re overwhelmed and stressed. Your gut is telling you that there may be reason for concern, but you’re not sure where to start.
If you’re worried your child may be exhibiting symptoms of autism, you may find it helpful to review the common signs of autism in toddlers found below. While some of your concerns regarding your own child may come from comparing them to their same-aged peers, it’s important to understand that individuals with autism may vary widely in their behaviors and traits. This is the “spectrum” that Autism Spectrum Disorder encompasses.
Common Signs of Autism in Toddlers
Not pointing to an object of interest by 14 months, such as not pointing to a balloon floating nearby, an airplane flying overhead, or an animal spotted at the zoo as a way to point this item out to another person
Not responding to their name by 12 months, by looking at or turning towards the person calling their name
Avoiding eye contact, which may include looking away when others attempt to make eye contact with them
Wanting to be alone rather than interacting with others, and possibly leaving the area when others approach
Not playing “pretend” games by 18 months, such as pretending to make a toy car “drive” or pretending to “feed” a baby doll
Delayed speech or language skills, possibly including not babbling or attempting to echo, produce or vocalize sounds that they may hear
Repeating words or phrases over and over, possibly from people in their environment that they hear speaking or from movies/TV shows watched (often called echolalia)
Having trouble understanding the feelings or emotions of both themselves or others
Being upset by minor changes in routines, such as driving a different direction to a certain destination in the car or changing the order of completing a bedtime routine
Having obsessive interests
Engaging in self-stimulatory behaviors such as rocking, flapping their hands, moving certain objects in particular ways near their eyes, or spinning in circles
Giving unrelated answers to questions
Having unusual or extreme sensitives to the way things smell, taste, feel, look or sound
Another useful tool, the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers), can help you determine if a professional should evaluate your child. This simple screening tool is available here.
If you have any concerns about your child’s development, don’t wait to speak with your pediatrician. If appropriate, your child’s physician may also refer you for additional screening with one of the following types of providers who often have specialized experience assessing individuals for Autism Spectrum Disorder:
As our understanding has improved, autism can now reliably be diagnosed by 3 years old and may be diagnosed as early as 24 months. The research is clear that early and intensive intervention, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, is key to helping children with autism achieve their full potential.
Even if your gut is telling you that your child may have autism, it’s important to obtain a formal diagnosis from a qualified provider as most insurance plans require documentation of an ASD diagnosis to cover therapy services (especially ABA). To learn more about autism, visit our “What is Autism?” page.
(https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html) April 23.2020