Signs of Autism in Toddlers

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or commonly known as autism refers to a group of complex disorders that affect brain development. These disorders are characterized in different degrees according to the difficulties in verbal/nonverbal communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors. Most parents do not notice any signs because they really do not want to even think that their precious bundle has a disorder. As far as autism is concerned, catching it before the age of eighteen months really makes a huge difference.

Signs of Autism in Toddlers

When caught in infancy, treatment becomes easy because the young brain is more responsive to those treatment approaches. Unfortunately, though most symptoms appear between 12 and 18 months, it is quite hard to diagnose autism before 24 months. Being able to detect autism in toddlers, especially by 18 months of age improves the chances of rewiring the brain. It even makes it possible to reverse the symptoms.

It is important to bear in mind that you should not look for the signs of abnormalities but you should notice the absence of normal behaviors first. Most parents ignore their infant being so quiet and often think they just have a "good baby" who is undemanding. However, you should seek medical help if your infant does not reach out to be picked up, shows no response to cuddling, or makes no eye contact while being fed. Here are some other signs of autism in toddlers:

  • Does not smile when someone smile at them
  • Shows no response to his/her name
  • Fails to follow objects visually
  • Fails to use any gestures to communicate
  • Never makes noises to get your attention
  • Does not imitate your facial expressions or movements
  • Shows no interest in playing with other people
  • Does not make basic requests or ask for help

Moreover, you should visit your child's pediatrician if you notice the following delays:

  • By 6 Months: No joyful expressions, like smiles, etc.
  • By 9 Months: No sharing of smiles, sounds, or any other facial expressions
  • By 12 Months: No baby talk and no gestures, lie pointing, showing or waving
  • By 16 Months: No words spoken
  • By 24 Months: No imitations of others and the inability to say meaningful two-word phrases

Know Infant and Toddler Milestones to Identify Autism

If your toddler does not show the following signs at certain ages, you may want to talk to the doctor for further evaluation. Such delays usually indicate a problem.

At 3 Months

At 7 Months

At 12 Months

At 24 Months

At 36 Months

Shows a social smile

Shows interest in social play

Cries at the departure of mother or father

Imitates behavior of adults and older children

Imitates playmates

Raises chest and head while being on stomach

Becomes responsive to his/her name

Feels anxious when with strangers

Feels excited in other people's company

Shows affection for certain people

Begins to communicate and becomes more expressive

Tries to get objects that may be out of reach

Repeats gestures or sounds to grab attention

Shows more independence

Waits for his/her turn in games

Shakes and grabs toys

Shows interest in mirror images

Shows interest in imitating people

Exhibits defiant behavior

Knows what is his/her and what is not

Takes hands to mouth

Sits with and later without the support on hands

Manages to find hidden objects and is able to finger-feed

Locates objects and learns to sort objects by colors and shapes

Manages without parents being around

Smiles when he/she hears your voice

Grabs objects and transfers to other hand

Knows how to use objects properly and becomes responsive to "no"

Points to pictures or objects when they are named

Expresses affection with a wide range of other emotions

Babbles, imitates sounds, and turns head towards the sound

Rolls back to front and then front to back

Can shake head

Says single words and becomes able to say simple phrases by 24 months

Starts playing with mechanical toys and knows how to sort objects by color and shape

Follow objects and watches faces intently

Becomes responsive to "No"

Says 'mama' or 'dada' and is able to babble with inflection

Manages to understand and follow simple instructions

Manages to complete puzzles with 3-4 pieces



Learns to imitate words and uses exclamations as well

Learns to walk alone

Understands sentences and manages to use 4-5 words in one sentence



Crawls on belly, pulls up to stand, and starts walking with some help

Scribbles on own

Can say age, name, and sex



Becomes good with objects – can hold them, bang them together, and put them in and take them out of the container

Grabs toys while walking

Manages to walk the stairs with one foot per stair step and later manages to run or pedal tricycle

What Parents Can Do

Parents should never ignore the fact that toddler is not showing signs of growth and watch out for signs of autism in toddlers so as to provide early treatment. No one is in a better position to know there is a problem with your child. Even a pediatrician cannot identify certain problems in a quick 20-minute visit. Look for all those abnormal behaviors and discuss them with your doctor. Here is what you should do:

  • Keep an eye on your child's development. If you notice developmental delays, there has to be an underlying problem. Educate yourself to ensure that your child is achieving the key emotional social and cognitive milestones.
  • Take steps to eliminate any concerns. If you suspect any developmental delays, do not panic. However, you should take action and talk to your child's doctor immediately. In most cases, your child is "normal" even when he/she shows some developmental delays. Still, you should avoid following a wait-and-see approach when you are concerned about how your child is behaving. Even if those delays are not due to autism, there may be other issues that only your doctor can identify and correct.
  • Make your point clear. Sometimes, your child's doctor do not understands how serious your concerns are. They may believe there is no need to perform a thorough evaluation for developmental delays. In this situation, trust your instincts and do not shy away from seeking a second opinion or taking your child to a development specialist for confirmation.

How Can It Be Managed?

When you notice signs of autism in toddlers, it is important to work with a team of specialists. The team might include a speech therapist, psychologist, teacher, and occupational therapist. While there is no cure for this disorder, the specialists can help make it easier for kids to improve their communication skills. Kids who cannot speak can express their needs by pointing at pictures, and this is where special education teachers can help. Kids with mild symptoms of autism can go to high school and even college. They may still need help but they can learn how to live more independently. Just learn to be a friend to help your child grow!

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