Early signs of autism

Detecting early signs of autism is important to make the most impactful positive change for children with autism to enable them to maximise their potential. Secondly, your child may be eligible to access support and NDIS sooner, if you are able to identify these early signs. Your child’s friends, family and teaching staff will also likely benefit from understanding your child’s condition.

Children can be classified into categories by their developmental age by recognising the behaviours and actions they are capable of, also referred to as developmental milestones. These come with an ‘average’, or the typical age range of a particular child when they reach a particular milestone. If a child passes a particular age range without having met the corresponding milestones, they are not at their developmental age and should be considered for a range of developmental disorders, that include autism. Depending on the child, signs of autism may not be recognised until they reach school age.

Moreover, you may notice some signs in your child before school age, however, you will need further advice and a diagnosis from a health professional with expertise in autism.

Below is a checklist of common signs and characteristics of autism:

Expected developmental milestones Seek support if:
12 month old
  • Watches faces, respond to expressions of emotion
  • Smiles often
  • Babbles, imitates sounds and words
  • Can pronounce single words such as “mama”
  • Responds to loud sounds
  • Smiles primary care-givers voice and preferences them
  • Can sit up without assistance and can pull self up to stand
  • Does not pay attention to frightened faces
  • Does not smile
  • Does not babble or laugh
  • Has no words or approximation of words
  • Does not respond to loud sounds
  • Does not show affection to primary caregiver
  • Does not crawl and cannot stand when supported
24 month old
  • Walks alone, with support can climb stairs
  • Single words by 15-18 months; phrases by 24 months. Imitates others
  • Cannot walk by 18 months
  • Does not speak or imitate actions
36 month old
  • 4-5 word sentences, understands most sentences
  • Imitates adults and playmates
  • Separates easily from parents
  • Plays make believe
  • Climbs well, runs, kicks a ball and climbs stairs
  • Limited speech, does not use short phrases, cannot follow simple instructions
  • Little interest in other children
  • Difficulty separating from primary caregiver
  • Little interest in ‘make-believe’ play
  • Frequently falls
Preschool age
Social communication

  • Does not point or share observations or experiences
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Absence of speech or unusual speech patterns
  • May avoid social situations
  • Limited development of play activities

Behavioural red flags

  • Marked repetitive movements
  • Obsessive interest in certain toys or objects
  • Resistance to changes in routine
  • Difficulty with toilet training
  • Distress from certain noises and or busy public places


Sources: https://www.autismawareness.com.au/could-it-be-autism/autism-signs/toddlers/#1456220962072-d92aa710-789a


Published On : February 5, 2021

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