How to Recognize the Signs of Autism

Two Methods:Recognizing Signs of Autism in InfantsIdentifying Signs of Autism in Older Children

Infants younger than a year can display indicators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). These signs are sometimes difficult to distinguish, and parents might confuse them with hearing problems. Some babies might actually have hearing loss or may simply be late bloomers. If your child is showing certain autistic symptoms, you should request an evaluation from your pediatrician. [1]. Your doctor can evaluate your baby at each well child check and track her progress. The official autism screening occurs when your child is 18 months old, but children should be evaluated for general developmental delays as early as 9 months. Early diagnosis is important to the child's development. [2]

Method 1
Recognizing Signs of Autism in Infants

  1. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 1
    Note your baby's facial expression. By 7 months old, typical babies express happiness and smile. [3][4]
    • A baby's first smile often occurs even before 3 months.
    • If a baby doesn't follow objects with her eyes by 3 months, this could be a very early indicator of autism.
    • Observe their other facial expressions.
    • By 9 months old, babies communicate with others by displaying certain expressions like grimacing, pouting and grinning to fit their mood.
  2. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 6
    Notice when babbling begins. Neurotypical babies will babble by the time they are 7 months old.[5][6]
    • The noise might not make any sense.
    • It is common for babies to make repetitive sounds, but autistic babies will make different sounds and rhythms.
    • By seven months, non-autistic children are able to laugh and make squealing sounds.
  3. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 3
    Consider when your child begins speaking. Some autistic children experience a delay in speaking, or never learn to speak at all. Around 15-20% of autistic people never speak,[7] although this does not mean they do not communicate.
    • By one year, non-autistic children are able to say single words such as "Mama" and "Dada".
    • By age 2, most children are able to string words together. A typical 2-year-old should have a vocabulary of more than 15 words.
  4. Image titled Take Care of Your Twins Pregnancy Step 11
    Check your child's response to language and play. An autistic child might not respond to their own name or avoid play with others. [8][9]
    • By 7 months, a typical child responds to simple games like peekaboo.
    • A non-autistic child responds to her own name by the time she is a year old.
    • By 18 months, a typical child will start to play "pretend" games, such as pretend feeding a baby doll. Autistic children tend not to play pretend, and may appear unimaginative to onlookers.
    • By age two, non-autistic children will imitate your words and actions.
    • Pay attention to speech regression. Some infants meet their milestones and then lose skills at an older age.
  5. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 4
    Examine your child's movements. Babies will reach for objects typically by 7 months of age. Place a toy out of your child's reach to see if he will reach for it. [10][11]
    • Babies as young as 7 months old will try to attract your attention with movements. Autistic children may be less active.
    • By 6 months old, children should turn their head towards sounds they hear. If your child does not do this they may have a hearing problem, or early symptoms of autism.
    • Many babies start waving bye-bye and pointing to objects they want by the time they are 12 months old.
    • If your child has not started to walk or crawl by 12 months, this is a very serious developmental disability.
    • By age 1, most babies will start to use gestures such as shaking their head to say "no".
    • If your child cannot walk by age 2, you should definitely have her evaluated by a doctor for autism and other disabilities.
  6. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 7
    Look for stimming. Stimming serves a variety of purposes: from self-calming to expressing emotions. If your young child waves their hands, rocks their body, or spins in circles constantly, this is a likely sign of autism.

Method 2
Identifying Signs of Autism in Older Children

  1. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 8
    Observe your child's interaction with others. Autistic children may not develop friendships with peers. They may want to form friendships but not know how, or they may not really care. [12]
    • They sometimes struggle with understanding and reacting to others' feelings.
    • Autistic children may not want to join group activities, either because it's hard or because they aren't interested.
    • Autistic children may be unusual in terms of personal space: some may resist touch or not understand personal space.
    • Another symptom of autism is when a child does not respond to being comforted by others when they are distressed.
  2. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 9
    Notice the child's nonverbal communication. Autistic children may feel uncomfortable with eye contact. [13]
    • They may have a flat facial expression, or exhibit exaggerated experiences.
    • Autistic children may not understand or respond to other's non-verbal cues.
    • Autistic people may not use gestures or have trouble interpreting when others use gestures.
    • Autistic children often don't point to objects or respond to others pointing.
  3. Image titled Discipline Your Bipolar Child Step 7
    Pay attention to your child's verbal communication. Children who do not develop speech or have delayed speech may be autistic.[14]
    • Autistic children who are verbal may use a flat or monotone voice.
    • Some autistic kids use echolalia, or the repetition of words and phrases, to communicate and focus.
    • Reversing pronouns (using "you" instead of "I") is another common trait of children who have ASD.
    • Many autistic people don't understand jokes, sarcasm, or teasing.
    • Some autistic people may develop speech later, or not at all. These people can live happy and functional lives, using alternative communication such as typing, sign language, or picture exchange. Early intervention can help an autistic child learn how to use these tools.
  4. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 12
    Determine whether your child has passionate special interests. Fascination with one topic, like computer games or license plates, may indicate autism.[15] Autistic people become fascinated with particular subject areas, studying them passionately and sharing information with anyone who will listen (enthusiastically or not).
    • Autistic people often become fascinated with memorizing categorized facts and figures.
  5. Image titled Discipline Your Bipolar Child Step 12
    Consider whether your child's interests are considered "age-appropriate." Autistic people's emotional development differs from the development of their neurotypical peers, and this may result in them liking different things.[16]
    • Don't be surprised if a 12-year-old reads classical literature for fun and watches cartoons for young children. They may be both "behind" and "ahead" in some respects.
  6. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 11
    Watch how they play. Autistic children tend to play differently than neurotypical children do,[17] focusing more on systematizing than on imaginary play. They may show unusual aptitude with STEM-type toys.
    • Autistic kids may fixate on a part of a toy, such as the wheels.
    • One sign of autism is lining up toys in different patterns.
    • Ordering things does not necessarily indicate a lack of imagination. Autistic children may have intense inner worlds that are not easily detected by adults.[18]
  7. Image titled Tell if a Person Has a Concussion Step 11
    Pay attention to how your child reacts to sensory stimuli. Many autistic children have Sensory Processing Disorder, a condition in which their senses may be hypersensitive, or hyposensitive. [19]
    • Children with Sensory Processing Disorder may become overwhelmed easily when they are overstimulated.
    • Notice if your child hides from loud things (e.g. the vacuum cleaner), wants to leave events early, has trouble concentrating when there are distractions, is constantly active, or gets upset in loud or crowded areas.
    • Some autistic children react strangely to strong smells, bright colors, unusual textures, and specific noises.
    • Children with Sensory Processing Disorder will often have meltdowns or act out when they are over stimulated. Others may withdraw.
  8. Image titled Tell if a Person Has a Concussion Step 9
    Take note of meltdowns. Meltdowns appear similar to tantrums, but they are not thrown on purpose, and cannot be suppressed once they have begun.[20] They occur when bottled-up stress explodes to the surface. Sometimes they are triggered by sensory overload.
  9. Image titled Recognize the Signs of Autism Step 13
    Examine your child's routine. Many autistic children need routines in order to feel secure, and will become very distressed if the routine is disrupted. For example, your daughter might insist on sitting in the same chair at dinner each night or she might insist on eating her foods in a particular order.
    • Many autistic people follow specific routines or rituals when they are playing or doing certain tasks, and autistic children may become very upset by changes in this routine.
  10. Image titled Tell if a Person Has a Concussion Step 7
    Watch for social mistakes. While all children can do rude or inappropriate things, autistic people will do them more frequently, and act surprised and apologetic when told so. This is because autistic people don't learn social norms as easily, and may need to be taught explicitly what is appropriate and inappropriate.
  11. Image titled Discipline Your Bipolar Child Step 10
    Keep watch for other symptoms. Autism is a complex disability that affects every person differently. Here are some examples of symptoms that some autistic people have:[21]
    • Hyperactivity (This may come and go.)
    • Impulsivity
    • Short attention span
    • Aggression
    • Self-injury
    • Temper tantrums or meltdowns
    • Unusual eating or sleeping habits
    • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
    • Lack or fear or extreme fear of harmless situations
    • Child might have distinct facial features. In a 2011 issue of Molecular Autism, researchers found out that children with autism have distinct differences in facial characteristics than typically developing children.[22] The study found children with autism had wider eyes, and a "broader upper face," compared with typically developing children.
    • Child might have abnormal lung airways. In 2013, a study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, claiming that "Bronchoscopic evaluations revealed that some children have double branching of bronchi (designated "doublets") in the lower lungs airways, rather than normal, single branching. Retrospective analyses revealed only one commonality in them: all subjects with doublets also had autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD)."[23]


  • Research autism and related disabilities carefully before jumping to conclusions. For example, what looks like autism may be Sensory Processing Disorder.
  • Some children are late bloomers and have normal delays in development.
  • If you are concerned that your child is exhibiting some of these behaviors, take them to your pediatrician for an evaluation.
  • Early intervention has been shown to be very successful in allowing autistic children to integrate into regular classrooms and interact with their peers.
  • Give yourself time to reflect, adjust, and cope.
  • Contrary to popular belief, autism will not destroy your child's or family's life.[24] Things will turn out all right.[25]


  • Never consent to a therapy that you would feel uncomfortable giving to a neurotypical child (e.g. quiet hands), or that has been classified as torture (e.g. electroshock therapy).
  • Be careful of anti-autism campaigns and organizations, as these can spread destructive messages that hurt your child's self-esteem. Research an autism organization carefully before exposing your child to it.

Sources and Citations

Show more... (28)

Article Info

Categories: Autism Diagnosis Process