While the earliest signs of autism spectrum disorder often appear during the first year of a child’s life (studies show that one third to half of parents of children with ASD noticed symptoms before their child turned one), not all children with autism are diagnosed this early.
Some don’t show symptoms until they’re toddlers and, because autism disorder is a spectrum, some early signs can be difficult to spot, even for attentive parents and pediatricians. Still other children may seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months, when they stop gaining new skills or even lose skills they once had.
Whether a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as an infant or the condition is caught later, nearly 80-90 percent of parents of children with ASD report noticing symptoms by their child’s second birthday, which emphasizes the importance of being aware of common signs of autism in toddlers.
Communication-related signs of autism in toddlers
Usually, by a toddler’s first birthday, they have mastered some very basic forms of communication and interaction with others, like making eye contact, mimicking the words and actions of their caregivers, and using simple gestures to express emotions (like clapping when happy) or sentiments (like waving “bye”). This may not be the case for children with ASD.
It’s important to remember that the language and communication skills of people with autism spectrum disorder vary widely. According to the CDC, about 40% of children with ASD do not talk at all and about 25-30 percent of children with ASD have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them.
Some specific communication-related signs of autism in toddlers include:
Children with autism spectrum disorder will frequently develop repetitive actions and motions as a form of self-stimulation or “stimming.” They may also struggle with sensory issues (over- or under-sensitivities to sounds, lights, touch, tastes, smells, pain and other stimuli), which often present as toddlers.
Some specific behavioral signs of autism in toddlers include:
Toddlers who are developing normally will typically engage in simple social games like peek-a-boo, but for a child with autism spectrum disorder, even basic social interactions and games may be difficult or uninteresting.
Some specific social signs of autism in toddlers include: