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Learn the Signs

One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.

What are the signs of Autism?

The autism diagnosis age and intensity of autism’s early signs vary widely. Some infants show hints in their first months. In others, behaviours become obvious as late as age 2 or 3.

Not all children with autism show all the signs. Many children who don’t have autism show a few. That’s why professional evaluation is crucial.

It is important to understand that:

  • No single behaviour is indicative of autism, nor will a child show all the behaviours listed. The significant factor is a pattern of behaviours from each of the four essential areas. They are language or communication, ways of relating to people, responses to sensory stimuli, and developmental discrepancies.
  • Some of the behavioural indicators may be intense, while others may be relatively mild.
  • Some of the behaviours that indicate autism are typically seen at specific stages of normal development. The significant difference in autism is the intensity of the behaviour and the persistence of the behaviour beyond the normal developmental stage.

Behavioural Indicators of Autism in Young Child


  • Has flat or limited facial expressions
  • Does not use gestures
  • Rarely initiates communication
  • Fails to imitate sounds or actions
  • May have little or no speech or may be quite verbal
  • Repeats or echoes words or phrases
  • Uses unusual vocal intonation/rhythm
  • Seems not to understand word meanings
  • Understands and uses words literally


To people :

  • Is unresponsive
  • Has no social smile
  • Does not communicate with the eyes
  • Eye contact is limited/fleeting
  • Seems content when left alone
  • Seeks social contact in unusual ways
  • Does not play turn-taking games
  • Uses adult’s hand as a tool

To the environment :

  • Play is repetitive
  • Is upset by or resists changes
  • Develops rigid routines
  • Drifts aimlessly about
  • Exhibit strong and inflexible interests

Responses to sensory stimuli

  • Sometimes seems deaf
  • Exhibits panic related to specific sounds
  • Is oversensitive to sound
  • Plays with light and reflections
  • Flicks fingers before eyes
  • Pulls away when touched
  • Strongly avoids certaain clothes, foods, etc
  • Is attracted to specific patterns/textures/odours
  • Is very inactive or very active
  • May whirl, spin, bang head, bite wrist
  • May jump up and down and/or flap hands
  • Exhibits unusual or no response to pain

Developmental discrepancies

Skills are either very good or very delayed

Learns skills out of normal sequence; for example :

  • Reads but does not understand meaning
  • Draws detailed pictures but cannot button coat
  • is very good with puzzles, pegs, etc. but is very poor at following directions
  • Walks at normal age but cannot communicate
  • Echoed speech is fluent while self-generated speech is not fluent
  • Can do things sometimes but not at other times