Signs of Autism in Young Children - A Look at Early Signs and Symptoms

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Social Interactions

Since social skills are not observable until children are old enough to start interacting with others, preschool is often the first time parents and other adults begin to notice if there is a problem. Young children with autism will often show a lack of understanding of other’s emotions even when obvious, such as laughing or crying.

In addition, they might portray their own emotions abnormally. For example, they might laugh hysterically in a situation that nobody else finds funny. Young children with autism might show an inability and lack of desire to make friends. Also, they will not respond properly to verbal instructions or visual cues. For example, when the teacher says it is time to finish doing puzzles and go back to the table, the child might not respond. The child also may not notice when all of the other children return to the table.

Children with autism might be focused or interested on unusual things to the point that they show no interest in anything else. This can make it difficult for other children to interact since they may not have the same interest. Children who are very rigid in their need for routines and repetitive behaviors might be demonstrating signs of autism. Instead of dealing with their frustrations in socially acceptable ways, they might use aggression towards others or themselves as a solution, more so than same aged peers.


When young children interact with each other they use both verbal and non verbal cues. Difficultly in this interaction could demonstrate signs of autism in young children. Development of verbal communication might be slower than peers, or perhaps not occur at all. If speech does occur it might have an unusual pattern or inflection. Some young children will only repeat things that they hear which is called “echolalia”. Conversational skills might be lacking which makes it difficult to continue communication with others. Also, a young child might not be able to have their needs or wants met through communication.

Physical Behaviors

There are some physical behaviors that are signs of autism in young children. Toe walking is often an indicator of a developmental disorder. It is normal in children until around the age of two when they usually revert to the heel first step after that. But in an autistic child toe walking may last for much longer.

Children who might have autism respond in an unexpected way when dealing with sensory inputs such as noise or pain. Some kids with autism demonstrate an extreme amount of energy and are constantly in motion while others will be extremely lethargic. Many children with autism will also show a severe lack of understanding of danger along with an inability to learn from experiences or verbal responses.


Because other things can cause many of these symptoms, such as hearing loss, it is important to contact a pediatrician. This will allow you to determine a specific diagnosis and work towards proper treatment. It is also important to remember that many children will demonstrate some of these symptoms at different times throughout their lives and it may or may not indicate that there is a problem.


Autism Symptoms: