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Autism/ASD: Recognizing Early Warning Signs In Young Children

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#1 baddmammajamma

Posted 24 October 2010 - 10:16 AM

Hi Fellow EB Mums:

I have shared this information below in various forms on EB, but I am targeting this particularly board in an effort to raise general awareness of the early warning signs/potential red flags for autism. As some of you know, my now 9-year-old daughter has an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) that was detected when she was relatively young. As a result, she was able to take advantage of some really great early intervention.

When I first started worrying that something was slightlyatypical about my daughter's development, autism never even entered into my mind. I mistakenly believed that because she made eye contact, enjoyed playing with me, and smiled -- not to mention that she was a girl! -- there was no way that we had to be worried about autism.

What I didn't realize at the time is that ASD comes in so many different shades. It's called a spectrum because the blend of symptoms, and the degree to which they affect a person, can vary dramatically. What people with ASD share are (varying degrees of):

* Differences in communication and social interaction (use of verbal and non-verbal communication; relating to other people and sharing emotions)

* Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities

Quite often, people on the autism spectrum also have significant sensory sensitivities (hypo and/or hyper sensitive).

Looking back, we actually had plenty of early warning signs with our daughter when she was a baby and toddler. At the same time I had these niggling concerns, I was surrounded by friends, family & even some medical professionals assuring me that she was just "quirky," "marching to the beat of her own drum" and "developing at her own speed."  

Nobody encouraged me to explore my concerns further, and to be honest, I didn't WANT to learn that something was wrong, so I stayed away from any resources that might have pointed me in the right direction. Thankfully, I had two very ballsy and informed friends who batted me over the head and encouraged me to seek the guidance of a specialist.

For any of you who have niggling concerns about your own child, but need a gentle nudge to act upon them, I hope that this message will encourage you to take action. If you click on the link in my signature, you will see why I am so passionate about this cause.

Early Warning Signs In Babies/Toddlers:

Some early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – usually seen in the first two years – are listed below. Some children will have many of these early warning signs, whereas others might have only a few. Some behavior signs can change over time, or become clearer as the child gets older. Also, any loss of social or language skills during this period is cause for concern. The number of signs in each category varies according to the age of the child and how severely the child is affected.

Social communication red flags

The child:
  • doesn’t point to or hold up objects to show people things, share an experience or show that she wants something – for example, she doesn’t point to a dog and look back at you to make sure you’ve seen it too, or she’ll drop a toy in your lap and walk away instead of holding it up and looking at you
  • doesn’t use eye contact to get someone’s attention – for example, she doesn’t look at a parent then at a snack to show she wants it
  • doesn’t consistently respond to her name
  • doesn’t smile at caregivers without first being smiled at or tickled
  • doesn’t use gestures on her own – for example, she doesn’t wave bye-bye without being told to, or without copying someone else who is waving
  • doesn’t show interest in other children
  • doesn’t start games such as peekaboo or patty cake
  • doesn’t engage in pretend play – for example, she doesn’t feed her teddy bear
  • doesn’t sound like she’s having a conversation with you when she babbles
  • doesn’t understand simple one-step instructions – for example, `Give the block to me’, or `Show me the dog’
  • copies what she hears from others or from the TV – for example, when you ask if she wants more drink, she echoes back `more drink’.
Behavioral red flags

The child:
  • has an intense interest in certain objects and becomes ‘stuck’ on particular toys or objects – for example, he will flick the light switch off and on repeatedly, or will play only with cars
  • interacts with toys and objects in one particular way, rather than more broadly or in the way they were intended to be played with – for example, turning the wheels of a toy car or lining up objects
  • is very interested in unusual objects or activities – for example, drains, metal objects, or watching a specific ad on TV
  • focuses narrowly on objects and activities, such as turning the wheels of a toy car or lining up objects
  • is easily upset by change and must follow routines – for example, sleeping, feeding or leaving the house must be done in the same way every time
  • repeats body movements or has unusual body movements, such as back-arching, hand-flapping and walking on his toes
  • is extremely sensitive to sensory experiences – for example, is easily upset by certain sounds, or will eat only foods with a certain texture
  • seeks sensory stimulation – for example, rubs objects on his mouth, or face, or seeks vibrating objects like washing machines, or flutters his fingers to the side of his eyes to watch the light flicker.
For more information, please check out:
  • The Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore has put together an outstanding 9-minute video  tutorial on ASD behavioral signs in one-year-olds. The tutorial consists of six video clips comparing toddlers who show no signs of ASD to toddlers who show early signs of ASD.

Signs of possible ASD in Preschoolers

With some children, the red flags might not become entirely obvious until they reach preschool (or even school age), when suddenly the developmental gap between them and their peers becomes more pronounced. In addition to the signs above, here are some of the more common ways ASD might present itself in a preschool-aged child. Please note that this list is simply representative, not exhaustive, and that a child with ASD won’t necessarily show every sign.

Social communication red flags:
  • The child generally does not point to or share observations or experiences with others.
  • The child tends not to look directly at other people in a social way. This is sometimes referred to as a lack of eye contact.
  • There may be an absence of speech, or unusual speech patterns such as repeating words and phrases (echolalia), failure to use ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘you’, or reversal of these pronouns.
  • Unusual responses to other people. A child may show no desire to be cuddled, have a strong preference for familiar people and may appear to treat people as objects rather than a source of comfort.
  • The child may appear to avoid social situations, preferring to be alone.
  • There is limited development of play activities, particularly imaginative play.
  • There may be constant crying or there may be an unusual absence of crying.

Behavioral red flags:
  • The child often has marked repetitive movements, such as hand-shaking or flapping, prolonged rocking or spinning of objects.
  • Many children develop an obsessive interest in certain toys or objects while ignoring other things.
  • The child may have extreme resistance to change in routines and/or their environment.
  • The child may have sleeping problems.
  • The child may be resistant to solid foods or may not accept a variety of foods in their diet.
  • There are often difficulties with toilet training.
  • The child may be extremely distressed by certain noises and/or busy public places such as shopping centers.


If you have concerns that your child might have ASD, the next step should be getting professional guidance. You can also ask your MCHN or GP to do a relatively simple "developmental screen" to see if there are any potential issues. If your child attends day care or preschool/kinder, it can be valuable to ask carers/teachers what they have observed about your child as well.

Note: While talking to your GP can be a good place to start, please be aware that not all general practitioners are up-to-speed on ASD (some are, some aren't). All the more reason for you to arm yourself with good information!

In younger children, the diagnosis process almost always involves a specialist medical doctor (paed, developmental paed, or psychiatrist) or a panel approach that includes one. Your GP can refer you to one of these professionals.

For more specific information for how to get an ASD assessment in your state or territory, check out:

There are also some terrific on line resources to help guide parents. Two particularly valuable ones in Australia are:



(includes state-by-state directory of professionals who are well versed in ASD)

Additionally, the mums who are active on the Special Needs/Disabilities board are very supportive and happy to share recommendations of great "ASD-savvy" professionals (via PM, because we aren't allowed to make explicit recommendations on the board), provide information, or answer questions. Your child doesn't have to have a diagnosis of anything for you to voice your concerns or ask questions.

(I am in Sydney and am always happy to pass along my suggestions of ASD professionals in this area).

Thank you for taking the time to read this message!


Edited by baddmammajamma, 20 September 2014 - 08:16 AM.

#2 ivelsfancy

Posted 24 October 2010 - 11:25 AM

Hi baddmammajamma,

I don't belong in this section yet, But I just want to say thank you so much for posting this information it is so hard to decipher information sometimes and having some one with experience point you in the right direction really helps. I had some concerns about my daughter a while ago and it now seems that those concerns were probably reaction to food intolerance's. however I am going to print this out in case her concerning behavior returns. I really appreciate your encouragement to go with your instincts.....sometime that is so discounted so its nice to have it affirmed original.gif.

Thanks again! hope your DD continues to thrive!

#3 stefnie34

Posted 24 October 2010 - 12:42 PM

QUOTE (baddmammajamma @ 24/10/2010, 11:16 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
* Take action. It is a misnomer that you need an official diagnosis to start early intervention. For instance, if your child is struggling with speech, you don't need an official diagnosis of ASD to go to a speech therapist for help.


My dd was finally diagnosed with PDD-NOS (an Austism Spectrum Disorder) last week, but she has been receiving Early Intervention for almost 3 years now. Our first concerns were before she was 18 months old. It scares me to think where she'd be today if we had decided to wait for a diagnosis before taking action.

I'm also happy to help, PM me any time if you have questions original.gif

#4 Winterdreaming

Posted 24 October 2010 - 08:16 PM

This is a fantastic post. It is so useful that I think all should read it. I know many of these signs myself, but the refresher was so helpful, as we forget what kids are menat to be up to at what age.

So often I read posts about concerns parents have and well meaning parents reply to reassure the OP that all will work out in the end, all kids develop at different rates etc. As much as this may be true, the reality is, that is not always true.

Be up front about the red flags, or early warning signs, may not be what people want to hear, when they are worried, but if it helps someone to go and talk about their concerns with  professional, then I think it is worth mentioning.

#5 MitchNme

Posted 24 October 2010 - 08:44 PM

Thanks for sharing OP. My DS is 2yrs 7months, and I have always known there was something that wasnt quite right with him. Everyone would always try to reassure me that he was fine, and he would do things in his own time, but I think mothers instincts are very powerful, and we do know our children better then anyone else. He has been having therapy for the last 6 months while we are slowly moving up the EI waitlist, and although all his therapists and carers believed he was on the Autism Spectrum, my Paed wanted to give him a chance and see if everything would suddenly click for him. It didnt, and we finally recieved a diagnosis last week, so although it was hard to hear it officially, I was already prepared for it. Now we can start more intensive therapy with some extra funding, and hopefully give him the best start before he hits school age.

I whole heartedly agree with baddmammajamma, and trust your instincts and get your child checked out if you think there may be issues. As a school teacher, I see children with ASD start school, and it is not till then that they are first diagnosed, because some parents dont recognise the signs, and others choose to ignore them. It is so much harder for them when they havent had that early help.

#6 seahorse67

Posted 25 October 2010 - 03:05 PM

bub4me: "I whole heartedly agree with baddmammajamma, and trust your instincts and get your child checked out if you think there may be issues. As a school teacher, I see children with ASD start school, and it is not till then that they are first diagnosed, because some parents dont recognise the signs, and others choose to ignore them. It is so much harder for them when they havent had that early help."


#7 baddmammajamma

Posted 25 October 2010 - 10:48 PM

bub4me: I hope we will see you over on the ASD: Below School Age thread (for parents of kids with confirmed or suspected ASD). I'm glad that you have some answers about your son. To be honest, I found the "What if" stage to be far worse than the post-diagnosis stage!

Thank you to those who have written kind things. I felt so alone and overwhelmed when we went through DD's diagnosis that I want to do everything possible to get information out there & let other worried parents know that they are not alone.

#8 AnZ

Posted 26 November 2010 - 10:55 AM

Hi I'm not sure where to post this and because I've come across this post I'm going to do it here and hopefully someone will have some good advice because most people I talk to blow me off etc

My DS3 is a twin and so it's really hard not to compare him to his two brothers especially his twin brother however he has some behavioural problems, weird things he does and a particular smell that's sweetly sickening sometimes...

I'm not sure what to do as my paed said he just has a bad temper (12months old check up)and sometime it might be just a temper tantrum however he is so hard to calm down over the simplest things, he takes everything from his brother, he seems very cheeky and mischevious but he also can be loving at times although he does frown alot too and he just doesn't understand like my other two children have, he also won't touch certain things and is strange about certain noises.  He is a great little kid it's just that he's really different and now my Mother and partner are agreeing with me and we're worried because if he does have autism or something like that we want to do what we can for him while he's young. We don't want to be waiting years and then find out.  We've booked in again to see our paed but can't get in until Feb 11, which isn't that far away so I'll wait but I'm worried about being fobbed off again this time. Anyway just wondering if anyone has a similar story or advice that they'd like to share.

One other thing...He doesn't talk much yet although he is only just over 2 but when he does he chooses the harder words or what I think are harder...

And I'm just reading back over the first post on here, which has a lot of advice so duh...sorry

Cheers K

Edited by AnZ, 26 November 2010 - 10:59 AM.

#9 emily~and~girls

Posted 27 November 2010 - 06:20 PM

Totally off topic but I thought I would just mention that my dad often suffered from excess ketones and as a child I remember knowing he was sick by a sickly sweet smell on his breath and in his body odour.... It dis actially affect his behavior too . Thought I'd just mention it as a note to the post above ..... Feel free to pm me if you want

#10 baddmammajamma

Posted 23 December 2011 - 02:05 PM

Today is my day dedicated to re-visiting and updating the pinned ASD threads, hence the sudden surge in related threads reappearing. Bear with me! original.gif

Edited by baddmammajamma, 23 December 2011 - 02:14 PM.

#11 kh79

Posted 28 December 2011 - 04:27 PM

Something I wanted to note as really important is that if you have concerns then to follow your instinct and keep reading.  I foundwith my son reading initial asd checklists it was easy for me to dismiss my concerns because he is so high functioning.  Once i started looking into asd further and how it presents so differently in every child more and more I realized it was something that I needed to explore further.

As it turns out I was right that DS has asd, the great thing in terrible circumstances is that we found out so early and he is now getting some awesome help!

#12 Guest_Lois Griffin_*

Posted 06 January 2012 - 04:18 PM

Bumping to raise awareness!

My contribution: if in doubt stall about your child whether it be ASD related or something else entirely get it checked out. Better to be proactive than worry about niggling concerns.

#13 baddmammajamma

Posted 27 July 2013 - 03:08 PM

Just checking out the new functions plus the pinned threads. Very grateful that this post has received over 11,000 views! Thanks for helping me raise awareness!

#14 baddmammajamma

Posted 25 August 2013 - 10:18 AM

Periodically updating these pinned notes so that they stay fresh & relevant.

#15 baddmammajamma

Posted 20 September 2014 - 08:52 AM

Updated with some great additional links.

#16 baddmammajamma

Posted 07 December 2014 - 12:31 PM

Random bump in the spirit of "knowledge is power..."

#17 despmother

Posted 13 December 2014 - 10:50 PM

Hi baddmammajamma,

Your post is very informative.thank you.

My son has just turned 3.I have been having doubts about his development since he turned 2.But the Gp and paed kept telling me that he's still too young.

Now that he is three his daycare has also raised concerns about his development. He doesn't have issues with eye contact or following instructions however he still hasn't starTed talking and he always just plays alone when he is in a group.

I have finally got our Gp to provide a referral for Pecat.but there is a 8month waiting period. He has been attending speech therapy for 3 months with no improvement.

Is there anything else I can do or any paediatrians you can suggest that I can talk to. I live in blacktown but am willing to travel. Thanx.

#18 baddmammajamma

Posted 14 December 2014 - 10:11 AM

desmother: I will PM you. I am so, so sorry that your GP has been so dismissive of your concerns.

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