The signs of autism can be hard to recognize as a parent.
While we’re quick to recognize signs and symptoms in other people’s children we tend to miss key indications in our own.
I should know… My was diagnosed with nonverbal autism at age three.
I’d love to tell you I noticed very early warning signs of autism when he was under the age of 1.
However, most of the symptoms of autism did not begin until after his second birthday.
I kept hearing friends and family tell me to “just wait and see” and “every child develops at their own pace.”
But if I would have known all the signs of autism, I would have spoken up sooner and advocated for my son’s own sake.
While I never want to overreact as a parent, my son’s behavior and communication has completely regressed.
Without a behavior and speech regression for the past 6 months, I wouldn’t have seen all the other signs!
Although not every child displays every sign of autism, here is a list of 20 common symptoms and signs of autism I completely missed as signs of autism!
Whether you feel your child is showing signs or not, education for recognizing symptoms is key!
Here’s the common signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder my own son is displaying.
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Common Signs Of Autism
1. Does not respond to his name
I know my son knows his own name. But when I say his name he doesn’t stop what he’s doing to turn and look at me or respond by speaking.
I’ve now resorted to tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention if he is within reach.
All this time I always thought he was in his own little world or simply ignoring me.
Now I know this was one of the warning signs of autism that’s pretty common.
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2. Does not make eye contact
It’s frustrating because my son use to make eye contact all the time when he was a baby and loved it.
Then somewhere down the road he no longer made eye contact.
Today, I purposely try to engage with him in order to make eye contact (and even ask him to look at me) and I will only get very tiny glances.
This makes communicating with him difficult because he doesn’t look at me to read my facial expressions.
3. Plays by himself
Until my toddler started preschool, I had no idea how he interacted with other children his age.
Then, the preschool teacher told me he doesn’t interact with the other kids.
He doesn’t hit or bite others, but he plays by himself and doesn’t try to share toys or communicate with other kids.
On top of playing by himself, he plays with the same toys doing the same repetitive behaviors.
He loves playing with a play kitchen set and putting objects in and out of oven, cabinets, and microwave.
4. Cannot be soothed/calmed easily
Once a change in routine happens or he hears a sound he hates, then a full tantrum ensues.
I’m not talking minor crying. I’m talking full-out blood curdling screaming with crying, rigid body and hitting!
These tantrums are not easy to calm down. My son is literally inconsolable!
He doesn’t want to be hugged or even touched in any way.
Plus, no matter what I say to soothe him it seems to only make him scream more.
I’ve had tantrums last well over half an hour.
5. Can’t communicate wants or needs
Apparently, many children within the autism spectrum have trouble communicating their wants and needs.
My son is 3 and he still cannot tell me what he wants to eat or when he needs to go potty.
His language in the past 6 months has not been getting better.
Instead, he’s regressed completely to where he’s not speaking any words or phrases.
Only nonsense words and syllables on repeat!
This absolutely breaks my heart!
To tell me what he wants he will use non-communicative gestures: If he wants to go into the kitchen he will grab my hand and lead me there, then place my hand on the baby gate to open it.
If he wants milk he will get his sippy cup and hand it to me.
I’ve tried daily to get him to at least say “milk.” Unfortunately, he either ignores me or will start throwing a tantrum out of frustration.
It’s at this point I know it’s not that he doesn’t want to say “milk,” he’s simply frustrated because he CAN’T say it.
6. Does not relate to other people’s feelings
I’m very honest with myself and you… I struggle with anxiety.
Sometimes the stress becomes so much I develop a panic attack causing me to hyperventilate and start crying.
I try to control my anxiety as best as possible, but panic attacks are not controllable.
My son’s seen me in this state of anxiousness many times and he’s not upset by it.
I don’t think he understands what’s happening to me.
He instead is completely indifferent to my panic attacks and acts like he doesn’t care.
It doesn’t upset him at all to see me cry.
7. Little to no attention or focus
My family’s always joked around and said: “He has an attention span of a goldfish. Two seconds.”
It was a joke but now accompanied with other autism symptoms I’m realizing his lack of focus is not typical for a three-year-old.
Now, it’s no longer funny! Even his preschool teacher told me how he lacks focus compared to his peers.
For more information about autism CLICK HERE for an all-in-one guide on Speech Blubs!
8. Repeats same syllables, words and/or sounds
The repeating of words and sounds is common with autism spectrum and often children will repeat words in a robot voice or in a sing-song tone of voice.
A robotic sounding voice is pretty self-explanatory.
But a sing-song tone of voice is often demonstrated by children repeating words in a form of a question.
In other words, words or sentences that are not a question are asked in question form with an influx in tone of voice.
Until I saw this sign on a list of symptoms and signs of autism spectrum I didn’t recognize my own son doing it. Now I cannot unsee it.
My son does repeat the same syllable non-sense words and asks them in the form of a question.
9. Won’t answer questions with words
Very rarely do I get a yes or no answer out of him. I can ask him (simple) questions till I’m blue in the face and there’s really no point.
It seems like he’s either ignoring me or can’t hear me.
This is one of the most frustrating things. I told the occupational and speech therapists this is one of the most difficult symptoms I notice.
It’s hard talking to myself all the time and have someone who should be talking my ear off not answer me back.
10. Does not use gestures to communicate
Not only is he not communicating with yes or no answers, but he’s also not gestures to communicate his wants or waves hello or goodbye.
For instance, he doesn’t point to things he wants. Instead, he just makes a waving motion in the direction of the object he wants.
This causes many tantrums because if he’s not pointing to a specific object I can’t figure out what he wants always.
I think most of the time he believes I’m a mind reader.
I do well in figuring out what he wants without words and pointing, but I’ve had a couple years of practice.
11. Trouble understanding right from wrong
This is getting increasingly worse! While I would like to dismiss this as typical three-year-old behavior, I think he’s not understanding the difference between right and wrong.
I can instruct him not to do something and why (climbing and standing on top of his dresser) and he will still continue to do it repeatedly.
Now, this could also be a short attention span issue, however, I feel as if something is not connecting about what’s right and what’s wrong.
12. Engages in repetitive motions
This symptom has been going on for a long time. Literally, since he started walking and sitting on furniture!
We thought for the longest time that he just likes to rock. But this repetitive behavior is still continuing and shows no signs of slowing down.
It hurts to see him rock repeatedly on the couch now.
It’s even worse now because he will make the same sound over and over while rocking.
This type of repetitive motion is known as stimming and is one of the symptoms and signs of autism. I’m hoping with therapy his stimming behavior can be reduced.
13. Sensitive to sound, touch, etc.
The first warning signs of autism I had that he was sensitive to certain textures and sounds was before he turned one.
I tried to put an adorable lion Halloween costume on him and he had a total meltdown.
Literally trying to rip off his costume! I could tell it was the texture of the costume.
But sensitivity to sounds, certain textures, and images really kicked into high gear when he turned 2.
The big thing now is his fear of public bathrooms.
He’s absolutely terrified of the toilets flushing and the hand dryers.
14. Does not handle change well
Last week I took the boys with me to grocery pickup.
I only had a couple of bags worth of groceries, so instead of placing them in the back trunk space, I put them between the two captains chairs (between my boys) in the minivan.
This resulted in a complete meltdown from my three-year-old!
He was so upset about the groceries next to him, that what he could reach he tried throwing behind him to the back of the minivan.
Plus, I had to listen to crying and screaming the entire way home.
This is just one example of a slight change in a routine that my son could not handle and is often one of the most common symptoms and signs of autism for most children.
15. No fear
While you don’t want your kids to approach everything with apprehension, you also don’t want them to be completely fearless.
My son shows no fear when it comes to anything except particular loud noises and textures.
Most days he’s climbing and jumping off everything in the house that could cause him harm.
However, he doesn’t seem to have a filter with being afraid of anything.
He’s also becoming increasingly fearless when it comes to running away from us.
As soon as I take him out of the minivan he tries to run down the street.
16. Indifference to pain
Along with a lack of fear comes a complete indifference to pain.
Each time he hurts himself and should be crying rather quickly, he doesn’t.
Running face-first into a wall by accident doesn’t phase him. If he falls down on his knees on concrete, he will get up rub his knees and runoff.
I’ve had a scary instance where he got a bloody nose while playing too rough in his room and it took me a second to realize he was bleeding.
He didn’t seem to notice the drops of blood from his nose, nor did he cry when he hurt himself.
This was one of the huge warning signs of autism to tell me something was off.
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17. Temper tantrums
I would say his temper tantrums go beyond just tantrums. I’d call them full meltdowns.
The two worst things about his temper tantrums are:
- He’s inconsolable. He doesn’t let me hug, kiss or cuddle with him to help soothe him.
- His temper tantrums appear to be over nothing.
Since he’s (for the most part) non-verbal, it’s hard to understand the reasons behind his tantrums.
But the crying, screaming and throwing toys lasts for 30 minutes or more at a time.
Meltdowns are very different from tantrums and are listed as one of the warning signs of autism to recognize.
18. Self-injury behavior
This is a new symptom and it’s extremely frightening! It hurts me to see him hit himself when he’s upset.
Worse yet, he’s began to hit his head against hard objects like a windowsill and continue to do it.
It’s heartbreaking and my husband and I have to step in quickly to stop the behavior before he does actually hurt himself.
19. Cannot initiate conversation/exchange conversation
Most of the time it feels like I’m always talking to myself. Even though he’s with me all the time, I feel so alone.
I try and ask him questions about everything and talk to him about almost everything I can…
The result: Not even a yes or no answer to a question!
It’s upsetting. This combined with no eye contact really makes it hard to interact with him.
He use to exchange some conversation with him, at least by answering questions.
Now, it always feels like he’s ignoring me. Another on of the big warning signs of autism.
By age three, most children will at least respond to questions.
20. Speech/language regression
Up until three years of age (last November) my son was learning new words, saying five-word sentences and counting to 10.
Now… Nothing! In a matter of five months!
I can’t begin to express to you how heartbreaking it is to see your child moving forward in speech and then begin saying less and less.
He now says a lot of made-up words and babbling.
Although he wasn’t talking as well as other 2 to 3 year old’s before the speech regression, at least he was using words and some sentences.
Plus, I was so proud of him for counting to 10! I can now only get him to count to three.
In a way, I am thankful for his speech regression.
Without it, I probably wouldn’t have connected all the other symptoms and signs of autism and the warning signs of autism he was displaying.
Final Thoughts About The Symptoms And Signs Of Autism
I’m not going to lie… This article was extremely hard to write. Sometimes it’s hard to face the truth and sit down and examine every symptom, every struggle.
Until recently, I had missed all of these symptoms of autism.
Apart of me feels like there should be more questions asked about the signs of autism in the well-child checks after the first year.
The other part of me feels that if I would have gone with my instinct and not listened to family members when they told me to just “give him time to develop,” I could have got him the help he needs earlier.
Right now, we’re in the process of going through occupational, speech and psychological tests and evaluations for autism.
I’m praying this evaluation process goes as quickly as possible so we can begin a therapy plan to help with the signs of autism he’s experiencing.
The above 20 warning signs of autism are common symptoms for autism. However, I completely missed recognizing them.
Of course, not every child with autism will display the same signs as my son does.
But hopefully, this article will demonstrate for you the common symptoms of autism.
I’ve found education and understanding about autism are essential.
Even if your child doesn’t display signs, it’s still important to grasp an understanding of the autism spectrum disorder.
Autism signs: 3 to 5 year old’s