Early Signs Of Autism: What To Look Out For

September 14, 2023

Early Signs Of Autism

In light of the upcoming World Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd, 2022) followed by Autism awareness month, this article will shed light on the early signs of autism, helping parents understand what they need to look out for. Autism awareness holds huge importance as diagnosis leads to greater support for children and their families at an early stage. This can help them reach their full potential and reduce any stigma around autism.  

This article by Childhealthy will provide general information regarding early signs of autism, focusing on toddlers, young children, girls and boys. We will also discuss how the condition is diagnosed.

a toddler playing with puzzle blocks

What Is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), commonly known as autism, is a lifelong spectrum condition that can impact a person’s life in many ways. It is a developmental condition that can affect social skills, behaviours and much more. There is no defined cause of autism, and understanding and diagnosing the condition may be challenging as the characteristic of the condition vary from one person to another. Some people will showcase milder symptoms, while others will present more severe symptoms.

Each person with autism will have a unique set of strengths and areas where support is needed. Some autistic children are fixated on the things that they enjoy. Their intense interests bring them a lot of joy and are vital for their well-being. Routine is often favoured. If you try to make changes to an autistic child’s routine this can cause them stress, but families can develop strategies for managing this with good support.

How Common Is Autism?

Many children in the UK are diagnosed with autism each year. The severity of symptoms will vary from person to person. In the UK alone, 1 in 100 children has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The growing number of cases over the years has highlighted the need for an increase in autism awareness around the country.

Now, nations across the UK are implementing strategies that aim to help children and young people start their autism diagnosis assessment as soon as possible. This increase in awareness will help children and young people get a diagnosis earlier in life to help them get the support they need and deserve.

Common Signs of Autism in Toddlers

Autism is often not diagnosed until the child is at least 2 – 3 years of age. However, parents may suspect that their child is not developing normally at an earlier age because of an absence or limitation of joint attention and pretend play which are behaviours seen in typically developing children at this age. Some of the behaviours that you might notice include:

  • Lack of emotion in facial expressions
  • Minimal eye contact
  • Little awareness/response of their name
  • Minimal pointing/gesturing
  • Slow development of language/speech

Be aware that these signs do not necessarily mean your child has autism. However, you should seek an opinion and these observations can be due to other developmental delays that require follow-up and intervention.

Early identification and intervention will improve your child’s interaction, language and learning and enable your child to receive additional support if required. This will help to give them the best start in life.

Common Signs of Autism in Young Children

There are several early autism signs to look out for in children. Developmental concerns are usually present before the age of 3 years, although children’s difficulties may only become obvious at a later age.

  • Intense emotional reaction to unexpected changes 
  • Repetitive movements (spinning or hand flipping)
  • Failure to understand other people’s feelings
  • Difficulty expressing themselves 
  • Fixation on specific subjects 
  • Need for routine

Signs of Autism in Girls

Girls and boys can exhibit different signs of autism from one another. Autism can be more challenging to diagnose in girls. This is because they may be better at “masking” their feelings. This term means they come across as quieter and can hide their emotions, making them cope with social situations better. Signs of autism in girls can be missed or be misdiagnosed.

  • Ability to hide their feelings 
  • Often very quiet
  • Can imitate social behaviours very well
  • Minimal eye contact
  • Disliking towards physical contact
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings

Signs of Autism in Boys

Both boys and girls can generally experience the list of common symptoms associated with autism. However, the early signs are often easier to spot in boys. This is because symptoms in girls are a lot less noticeable than in boys. Take a look at some of the early signs of autism in boys below:

  • Difficulty with speech
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Repetitive behaviours
  • Disliking towards physical contact
  • Struggling with communication

Although autism is more prevalent in boys, they may show signs of some of these symptoms without having autism. However, it is advised that you seek medical advice if you have any concerns.

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

All children will go through a range of health checks to ensure that they are developing healthily. During these checks, your doctor may ask if you have any concerns. For example, you may notice your child does not show interest in things around them, and they don’t pay attention to you as much as you’d hoped. They may refer you to a specialist who will monitor your child over some time to help them decide on the diagnosis.

You can seek medical advice from your GP or paediatrician if you are concerned. An early diagnosis will help support your child’s individual developmental needs by a team of professionals. Some children will respond to behavioural therapy and others may require educational support.

Next Steps

Although autism is a lifelong condition, the severity can vary between children. Many children with autism will complete their education, get a job and live independently or with little support. Remember that autism does not define your child – it makes them wonderfully unique.

Seek medical advice if you suspect your child is experiencing signs of autism. Here at Childhealthy, we can put you in contact with the appropriate paediatric autism specialists via our website. We aim to put you in touch with the right people, so your child can get an early diagnosis and the support they deserve. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via the contact section on our website.




Disclaimer: Information contained in this article is intended as general advice and does not replace a medical assessment. If you are concerned about your child please contact your doctor for advice.


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