17 Signs That Your Child Has Autism

April 26th, 2013 by Brian Maiorana

AutismIn a recent article we reported that cases of autism rose 78 percent from 2002 to 2008. It is not a rare condition — one in eighty-eight children are now diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

The increase of diagnoses is in part good news — it demonstrates that awareness of the condition has increased dramatically over the past ten years or so. However, the relative prevalence of autism means that we should work even harder to increase awareness. That is in part the role of our Autistic Society Fund — to raise awareness of the condition so that children are diagnosed as early as possible in their developmental stages.

Since the diagnosis of autism at an early stage leads to better longterm developmental outcomes, we believe that all parents should learn to recognize the signs of autism. With that in mind, in this article we want to cover all of the main symptoms that may indicate that a child has autism through the three periods of their development.

Signs of Autism in Infants

Spotting autism in a newborn or very young child is difficult. Much of the symptoms of autism are manifested in social interaction and a lack of those particular skills amongst all infants makes it difficult to discern any potential issues. However, there are certain things you can look out for.

  1. Gaze aversion: this is where a child rarely (or never) makes direct eye contact. They may look at you out of the corner of their eye or even seem to be staring right through you. Furthermore, the child may not follow your gaze or look at things pointed out to them.
  2. Hearing: the child may not respond to (or seem to recognize) your voice, and yet they may seem sensitive to less immediate sounds (such as a doorbell).
  3. Interaction: the child may have little or no interest in drawing your attention to objects of interest by pointing, waving, or pulling at you.

Signs of Autism in Toddlers

As an infant grows into a child, he or she will typically begin to learn to communicate, both verbally and physically. It is at this stage that an autistic child may begin to exhibit more noticeable and unusual traits.

  1. Speech development: the child’s speech development may be slow or non-existent. Alternatively, speech development may begin to develop but then stop abruptly. As many as 40% of people with autism never speak.
  2. Social interaction: the child may demonstrate a marked lack of interest in interacting with adults and other children. Furthermore, they will have little interest in taking part in any kind of social activity. Although the child may be able to form friendships with other children, their behavior may often be inappropriate.
  3. Environmental interaction: the child may still play with toys but do so in an unusual fashion. Their attention may be drawn to certain parts of a toy (e.g. the wheels of a car) and they may play with that part specifically rather than the toy as a whole. Furthermore, they may “play” with toys in a logical and repetitive fashion (i.e. ordering blocks by size or color rather than building something with them).
  4. Stereotypies: the child may develop repetitive patterns of physical behavior such as flicking their fingers, flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, and so on.
  5. Routine: the child may establish habits like watching the same cartoon at the same time every day. Interrupting established routines may result in an extreme temper tantrum or possibly even self-harming.
  6. Visual stimulation: the child may be attracted to shiny objects or certain patterns. They may sit close to the television in order to better see the colors and shapes.
  7. Food habits: the child may demonstrate a strong dislike of certain foods based upon texture and color rather than taste. For instance, they may not like the consistency of mashed potato. Furthermore, they may insist on food being separated on their plate.
  8. Sensitivity to pain: the child may exhibit a higher than typical tolerance for pain and injury.

Signs of Autism in Children and Teenagers

Some children with mild or moderate autism may actually display an improvement in their symptoms as they begin their journey towards adulthood. However, others can actually worsen as they are exposed to new social situations that serve to exacerbate their behavioral deficiencies.

  1. Language: the child’s language skills will tend to improve but certain difficulties may become noticeable. These include referring to themselves as “he,” she,” or “you” rather than “I;” consistently repeating newly-learned words and phrases; and speaking in pre-learned phrases rather than piecing together words to form unique sentences.
  2. Communication: while the child may be able to hold a conversation about a topic that particularly interests them, they may otherwise struggle to start or continue a conversation. Their communicative style may be to talk “at” people, rather than “to” them. They may lack empathy. Furthermore, they may seem unable to adapt the tone and style of what they say to suit the social situation (e.g. they might talk to a teacher in the same way that they talk to a peer). Finally, they may not understand concepts such as humor and sarcasm.
  3. Social skills: the child may continue to show little interest in social activities such as sports. They may find it difficult (or impossible) to make friends.
  4. Habits: the child may develop a near-obsessive interest with a specific subject or activity; often one that involves order (i.e. lists, numbers, etc.). This could be anything from collecting coins to reading instruction manuals. They may abruptly move onto different interests after a number of months or years.
  5. Routine: the child may prefer a great deal of rigidity and consistency in their day-to-day activities. Their reaction to a change in their routine may be extremely volatile. Temper tantrums can be common and unpredictable.
  6. Learning: the child may perform well in subjects that involve rational thinking, such as math. Conversely, their ability to think abstractly may be highly limited, and as such they may struggle in subjects such as English Literature.


A child that displays one or two of these symptoms may not be autistic — it is the correlation of multiple symptoms that can make a diagnosis relatively straightforward. As is demonstrated by the number of symptoms, it becomes far easier to spot autism as the child develops, but the signs are often there at a very young stage.

Because autism is more treatable the earlier it is diagnosed, we urge you to contact your physician if you feel that your child demonstrates symptoms that could suggest autism. We will continue to accept contributions towards earlier diagnosis and better treatment of autism through our Autistic Society Fund — if you would like to help earlier diagnosis and better treatment, please submit a donation or contact us for further information.

Sources: Autism Speaks, WebMD and the NHS. Image Credit: Beverly and Pack.

This report was prepared on behalf of The Autistic Society Fund and Good Charity Inc. director Brian J Maiorana.

Good Charity, Inc. operates the following funds:

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