What are the Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers?

Many children on the autism spectrum experience developmental delays when they are still babies. But because they crawl and walk on time, differences in social and language skills often go unnoticed until they are older.

And while there are many signs of autism in toddlers, most of them revolve around inflexible behaviour, non-verbal communication difficulties, impaired social skills, as well as speech and language difficulties. Here are 7 early signs of autism in toddlers:

1. No Social Smiling

By the time they are three months old, babies will reflexively smile back if you smile at them. They carry this habit well into their toddlerhood.

To perform a test, look at your child with a neutral face and break into a wide smile; hold it for a few seconds, and try again three or four times. Often, toddlers will smile back. However, children with autism may not react to the smile completely. 

2. Lack of Eye Contact

Eye contact helps toddlers understand new things and form early relationships. Toddlers like to make eye contact and respond to facial expressions. If your child doesn’t make eye contact, he/she may have impaired social skills. This suggests that they are less engaged with others, which may lead to developmental delays. 

3. Not Responding to Their Name

By the time they are nine months old, most babies respond to their names. But that is not the case with children with autism spectrum disorder. Some children don’t respond to their names or talk completely, while others talk in a stilted tone or an exaggerated singsong. Toddlers with autism may repeat certain phrases and hardly use non-verbal cues to communicate.

4. No Social Anticipation

Toddlers like to anticipate games like Peek-a-Boo or being picked up by crying or lifting their arms. These traditional forms of play are evident by the time a child is six to nine months old. If that's not the case, you might need to book a consultation with an Occupational Therapist to evaluate your child's development.

5. Poor Visual Tracking

Babies follow their caretakers, brightly coloured toys, and almost anything visually interesting. To test, take a brightly coloured toy and move it back and forth in front of the baby; do they follow it with their eyes, or do they lose interest quickly and disengage?

6. Lack of Social Babbling

Long before uttering their first words, babies communicate through babbling. Most toddlers on the autism spectrum don’t make verbal noises. Some are slow to verbalize while others stop verbalizing at a certain point.

Working with an occupational therapist can help your child improve their social skills in a safe environment.

7. Fixation on Unusual Objects

Children with autism may show behavioural disorders such as constantly performing repetitive actions or fixating on minute details to a fault. Slight changes upset them and they are unusually sensitive to light, smells, textures, and sounds.

Jocelyn Jiang, Certified Occupational Therapist in Melbourne

Jocelyn Jiang is one of the most passionate and experienced occupational therapists for children in Melbourne. She helps children with autism acquire skills that they need in their day-to-day life such as self-help, sensory processing, fine and gross motor, and more. Her main goal is to help children on the spectrum achieve their full potential and self-confidence as they grow older.


Looking to give a child with autism a more independent life? Allow them to develop important life skills by registering your interest at Fired Up People.