The importance of detecting autism early

Diagnosing and treating a child with autism early in their life will significantly improve their experience. Let’s take a look at what the early warning signs are.

Autism is a complex disorder that affects certain children from a very young age. It impedes their development in many key areas, presenting struggles that most children don’t have to contend with. The severity with which autism spectrum disorder affects little ones ranges widely; some experience moderate issues while others are more severely challenged.

Generally, autism impacts the following areas: a child’s ability to communicate, how a child can relate to others, and how adaptable they are. The causes of autism spectrum disorder are the subject of huge amounts of discussion and controversy. Cutting through the noise leaves a few, clear facts on the table, principal among them being that diagnosing and treating a child with autism early in their life will significantly improve their experience.

What causes autism?

Science has traditionally told us that autism in children is purely a result of genetics – it’s essentially passed down the family line in one form or another. However, recent research suggests that there might be other causes, namely environmental factors.

Whether in the womb or out in the world, children are susceptible to a whole range of potentially harmful substances, from medication ingested by their mother, to pollution in the air. With such a broad range of potential causes, it’s difficult to mitigate against, and therefore crucial to be able to spot the potential signs of autism in your little one.

Knowing the signs

As with most conditions, parents are best placed to identify if something seems out of the ordinary with their little one. With your own child, you’re familiar with virtually every aspect of their being, everything that makes them so unique and special. It’s this familiarity that is your superpower when it comes to spotting the early signs of autism. Once you know what to look for, you’ll be able to see if your child is developing typically or otherwise.

Early signs

Early signs of autism include if your toddler doesn’t do any or all of the following:

  • React to their name being called
  • Enjoy or seek out cuddles
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Communicate through waves or gestures
  • Play with others and show interest in group activities
  • Express empathy if you hurt yourself

Developmental markers

If your little one isn’t hitting the following developmental markers, this could mean that they are experiencing some initial effects of autism spectrum disorder:

  • 6 months – able to smile and express joy
  • 9 months – imitating your expressions and sounds
  • 12 months – verbalising ‘baby talk’ and performing a variety of gestures
  • 18 months – speaking a few words


One significant pattern in children who develop autism is that they will develop in a seemingly normal manner and then their progress will stop, or even reverse, between one and two years of age. Little ones who had found the ability to say a few words will be unable to speak. Kids who previously loved  a bit of a cuddle or some social time will pull away from others and try to isolate themselves. These are all telltale signs that something isn’t right.

Older children and teens

For parents with older children who haven’t previously considered the possibility of their little one suffering from autism, it’s definitely worth knowing what to look out for.


Autistic children tend to show less interest in engaging with those around them. They may reject physical contact and have difficulty discussing and understanding emotions. Lots of children with autism prefer to be left on their own to play by themselves and are most comfortable in their own company.


Aside from taking longer than usual to say their first words, autism can affect children’s speech and communication in multiple ways. For example, they may struggle to match their facial expression to the words they’re saying, or they might speak in an unusual tone of voice.


From flapping their hands to rocking back and forth, or clicking their fingers while being mesmerised by a moving object, there are a whole host of unusual behaviours that could signify a child is on the autism spectrum. Other behavioural anomalies include moving their fingers in front of their eyes, flicking lightswitches on and off repeatedly and obsessively lining up their toys or belongings.


Inflexibility is a key marker of autism in children. This can appear as an insistence on sticking to the same routine, whether it be the order in which your child gets themselves ready for school or consistently leaving home at the exact same time. Other examples of inflexibility are extreme difficulties with any changes to their environment or a fascination with a very niche topic of interest.

Seeking help

If you have any concerns at all that your child is autistic, the single most important step you can take is to seek professional help. As mentioned before, early intervention is key and can even reverse some of the effects of autism. Trust your parenting instinct and if anything seems unusual, reach out to your doctor. Not only will you be well-supported on this otherwise scary and unknown journey, your little one’s quality of life will vastly improve, now that they are truly understood.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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