Early Signs of Autism

By Katie Cremin – Assistant Professor in Occupational Therapy, Trinity College Dublin.  Board member at Sensational Kids Charity, Kildare.


About one in every 100 people is believed to have an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), with boys out numbering girls.  With these high prevalence rates and a concern that rates may be rising, it is a good idea to be vigilant for signs in your child. Early diagnosis and intervention is known to be the most effective way of lessening the severity of the disorder. Alongside ASD there are several other ‘neurodevelopmental’ disorders of varying severity and presentations, which can have similar signs to ASD in a child. If you have any concerns at all, seek the advice of a professional early on. Watching and worrying about a child, but not seeking help is very stressful. Many children will have unusual quirks, sensitivities and ways of behaving which may be considered not typical or unusual – this does not make them Autistic. Also within the diagnosis of ASD there is a multitude of presentations, levels of severity and ways in which the child may be affected. Having a diagnosis of ASD does not define the child. Every child has his or her own unique developmental pathway and ways of learning; a label does not change this.

It is difficult to give short and concise red flag markers for a child – but looking at the diagnostic criteria for ASD and highlighting some observable behaviours may be useful for parents who are concerned.

In a nutshell, the individual with ASD has persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across all aspects of their lives, in combination with restricted patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.  The deficits need to be severe enough to be impacting on their day-to-day life in a significant manner and also present in their early development.

For a young child or toddler red flags may include some of the following:

  • Limited smiles and reciprocal smiling from 6 months
  • Limited sharing of sounds from 9 months
  • Limited babbling from 12 months
  • Lack of speech from 2 years
  • Toddler who appears like they may be deaf or hard of hearing i.e. doesn’t respond to their name or verbal interactions.
  • Toddler with limited interest or ability to interact.
  • Young child who is not making eye contact or watching for your facial reactions.
  • Young child with limited pointing to show interest in things and capture adult attention.
  • Toddler or young child with obsessional interest in things e.g. TV programs, characters etc.
  • Toddler or young child who lines up toys and doesn’t seem to be developing imaginary or make believe play.
  • Toddler or young child with unusual patterns of movement such as spinning, hand flapping/flicking or toe walking.
  • Toddler or young child who is highly under or over active in their movements.

Many children present with aspects or behaviours from this list who do not have ASD, so try not to make presumptions or become overly concerned about your child before you get professional help

If you have any concerns about your child’s development it is important to seek out help.  Any child born after June 1st 2002 is eligible to apply for an assessment of need under the Disability Act 2005 regardless of their age at the time of application. You can find out about this service through you local health centre. If you are specifically concerned about ASD the Irish Society for Autism provide support and information. A preliminary assessment by a qualified psychologist, occupational therapist or speech and language therapist may also be useful.


Copyright Sensational Kids CLG 2018