“If you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism.”
It’s a common refrain among health professionals who care for children with autism spectrum disorder. Just as no two kids are the same, no two kids with autism are the same. In fact, signs can vary dramatically from one child to the next.
Still, there are common behaviors — or a lack of behaviors — that often indicate autism. If you suspect your child may have autism, this list below of typical social and developmental signs may feel familiar. Though you may fear your child will not fit in at school or grow up to have the experiences, a proper diagnosis and appropriate interventions can help you mitigate the challenging aspects of autism and help your child live a full and happy life.
- 9 months: Your baby doesn’t respond to his or her name or look at you with a range of facial expressions — like joy, sadness and frustration. They also may be frequently and intensely distressed.
- 12 months: Your child doesn’t play pat-a-cake or wave goodbye to friends, family or passersby.
- 2 years: Your toddler doesn’t notice when others are hurt or sad, and doesn’t communicate or make requests by pointing or using words.
- 3 years: Your child doesn’t notice other children or join them in play. He or she may not care about toys, instead showing an intense and ongoing preference for household objects like flashlights, toothbrushes, remote controls — even while other 3-year-olds show a clear preference for toys.
- 4 years: While peers may enjoy dressing up as superheroes or princesses, your 4-year-old doesn’t engage in pretend play.
- 5 years: Your child doesn’t want to sing, dance or otherwise perform. In addition, collecting toys and objects is far preferable to playing with them.
- 7 years: Other 7-year-olds may be forming small friendship groups at school, but yours doesn’t have any preferred friends. Instead, your child has recurrent challenges getting along with classmates.
You may also notice your child shows restricted and repetitive behaviors, which may be very challenging for parents. These behaviors can happen across a range of ages:
- Repeats words or phrases over and over
- Lines up toys and becomes frustrated when the order is changed; gets upset when others play with toys a different way
- Develops obsessive interests and will not diverge, even for another fun activity
- Can’t tolerate minor changes to routines, clothing, home or school settings
- Has outsized or unusual reactions to sounds, smells and tastes
- Rocks body, spins or flaps hands
If you believe your child has autism, I recommend scheduling an evaluation right away, as a diagnosis is helpful for accessing services through many insurance providers as well as the Arizona Department of Developmental Disabilities. And since early intervention is linked to better short-and long-term outcomes for children, it’s best to move quickly.
You can start by scheduling a visit with your child’s pediatrician or contacting Axis for Autism, an Arizona healthcare company specializing in autism evaluation with offices in the Valley and in Tucson, for a free 15-minute screening. During that time, our team will determine if a full evaluation is appropriate and help you through next steps.
During my 20-year career working with children and families, I have learned that parents who believe their children have autism are almost never wrong. Honor your intuition and act swiftly to ensure the best future for your child.
Morgan Hall, PhD is a clinical neuropsychologist and clinical director of Axis for Autism.