Spotting the Early Signs of Autism

Diagnosing autism is complex, but there are a few common signs that can help if you’re worried your child might have autism. Children’s psychologist Daniela Di Ciano tells us more.

“I know a lot of parents can be worried about their child having autism. There’s so much pressure nowadays to make sure your child is hitting all their developmental milestones at the ‘right’ age, and it can be a real concern if your child isn’t following the textbook.

Girl alone on swing

Every Child is Different

“Below I’ve listed some of the early signs of autism – but just because some of these apply to your child doesn’t mean they have autism. Every child is different, and all children develop at their own pace.

1. It’s difficult to gain your child’s attention and focus on something together

"For example, while walking down the street you might say, “Look at that!” and point out something interesting like a balloon floating in the sky. However, a child with autism often won’t respond naturally to this sort of interaction. They are less likely to initiate these interactions too. They might point out things that interest them but not check that you are also looking."

2. Your child often likes to enjoy things alone

"Say your child finds a toy they really love in a shop - instead of showing it to you, a child with autism is more likely to explore the toy independently. You may also notice them focusing on the physical details of the toy, rather than using it as intended, or in an imaginative way."

3. Your child has difficulty with eye contact

"Children with autism often have difficulty using eye contact while talking or otherwise trying to communicate with you. For example, a young child might pull or lead you towards something they want, rather than looking at you and vocalising or pointing.

4. Your child’s speech is delayed

"This is a sign that parents often notice first. Usually children will start using single words by the age of two, and phrases by the age of three. However, children with autism may speak later and their speech may have an unusual quality. They will often need extra help to develop speech or other forms of communication."

5. Your child doesn’t use gestures to communicate

"Common gestures include nodding your head to show you agree, waving to say hello, or clapping your hands to share your excited feelings. Children with autism may be delayed or limited in their use of gesture. They may not use gesture to enhance their descriptions."

6. Your child’s play is repetitive or predictable

"This is quite a tricky one to put a finger on, as all children love repetition when they are playing. We all know how much babies love you singing that same nursery rhyme all day, every day, to them! However children with autism often have limited interests. Their play might follow a fixed routine and they may resist if you try to join in or do something different. This can have a negative impact on their social interactions."

Bringing out the Best in Your Child

“If you’re worried your child may have autism, talk to your doctor. The earlier it’s diagnosed the better, as they can start getting some specialist help.

“It’s possible to diagnose autism from around 18 months old, but for a really reliable diagnosis you need to wait a bit longer, until they are between two and three years old. This is when your child would usually start talking. The extra time also gives your child the chance to develop their social skills.

“If your child is diagnosed with autism, the most important thing to remember is that there is a lot of help out there for you both, and so much you can do support them. Try to focus on the strengths and skills that your child does have, and build on these, rather than focusing on what they don’t do. It’s a much more positive way to bring out the best in your child.”

If you are worried your child might have autism and could benefit from an assessment, please call us on 0208 6737930.  You can also read more about our child psychology services

Lizz Summers

Voice & Presentation Skills Coach