Most parents who are concerned about Autism in their young children are initially concerned that they are not talking. However, Autism is about a lot more than not talking. Signs of Autism fall into one of two categories. There are certain things that kids with Autism are supposed to be doing but are not doing. On the other hand, there are things that kids with Autism are not supposed to be doing that they are doing. 


Children with Autism will have delayed speech but you will also notice that other  aspects of communication are delayed or not present. Children with Autism may not respond to their names, make eye contact with their caregiver, or use gestures to communicate. Young children will typically point to things that they want. Children with Autism more commonly will take a person to what they want. For example, a child with Autism who wants milk may take their parent to their refrigerator and use their parents hand to open the door. 


Children with Autism will also have deficits in social skills. Two of the most common social skills that children with Autism struggle with are joint attention and imitation.  Joint attention has to do with shared enjoyment. In typical development when a child is happy, they will look back at their caregiver and smile. They will also point out things they see and enjoy in their environment such as an airplane passing overhead. These are examples of initiating joint attention. Looking where a caregiver points is an example of responding to joint attention which is something that children with Autism may also struggle with. Children should also imitate their caregivers. For example, if you clap your hands, your child should clap their hands back. If you roll a ball to your child, they should roll it back. A child with Autism would likely not understand he is supposed to imitate you. 


Children with Autism will also have a lack of play skills. Children with Autism will likely be more fascinated with household objects and parts of toys rather than the toy itself. For example, rather than  playing with a car, a child with Autism may spin the wheels of a car. Rather than playing with a puzzle or trying to put shapes into a shape sorter, a child with Autism may carry around household objects such as spoons or pencils. They may also line up household objects and toys or create scenes with them rather than playing with them.  Children with Autism are also unlikely to join in games with other kids. They may show no interest in other kids or want to play with other kids but not know how. 


These are all some of the behaviors that kids with Autism may not be doing that they should be doing.  There are also some behaviors that kids with Autism may exhibit that neurotypical kids may not develop. 


One of the signs of Autism in young children is engaging in stereotypy, which is commonly called stimming. This includes behaviors like running back and forth or around the room when they are excited, spinning in circles, hand flapping, jumping up and down repetitively, touching a person’s body part in an usual way repetitively, lining things up, looking at lights from the corner of their eyes, or spinning wheels on a car.  Children with Autism may also have a fascination with numbers or letters. They may be able to tell you all of the numbers and letters at a young age but not be able to ask for things or greet someone as they enter or leave a room. Children with Autism may also become very upset if there is a change in routine or develop a very strong preoccupation with one thing. To some degree these behaviors are typical for all children but for children with Autism you will notice they are doing these things to a greater degree than other kids.


If you believe that your child may have Autism, you should immediately contact early intervention and get your child assessed. Ask your pediatrician as to whether or not it would be appropriate to see a developmental pediatrician.  No matter what your friends or parents tell you, do not delay. The best way to help a child is to get them support as early as possible. 


I like to use the following analogy. Imaging a typical child is driving in a car at 50 miles an hour and your child is driving a car at 25 miles an hour. The longer they are driving, the farther apart the two cars get.  Whether or not your child has Autism, get your child support if they are missing any milestones. The longer they are learning at a slower rate the more they will fall behind. Appointments to get a diagnosis can take up to a year in some states so start the process as early as possible and do not wait until you get a diagnosis to get help for your child.

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Gernsbacher, M. A., Stevenson, J. L., Khandakar, S., & Goldsmith, H. H. (2008). Why Does Joint Attention Look Atypical in Autism?. Child development perspectives, 2(1), 38–45.


Jones, E. A., & Carr, E. G. (2004). Joint Attention in Children With Autism: Theory and Intervention. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19(1), 13–26.


Trevarthen C, Kokkinaki T, Fiamenghi GO. What infants’ imitations communicate: With mothers, with fathers and with peers. In: Nadel J, Butterworth G, editors. Imitation in infancy. Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, England: 1999. pp. 127–185.


Toth, K., Munson, J., Meltzoff, A. N., & Dawson, G. (2006). Early predictors of communication development in young children with autism spectrum disorder: joint attention, imitation, and toy play. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 36(8), 993–1005.

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