It is scary when your toddler is not saying many words. Many times during initial speech and language evaluations parents will ask me if I think their child may have Autism. Unfortunately, as speech-language pathologists, we cannot diagnose Autism. We can just tell you if your child is delayed in speech and language and if they need treatment. Developmental pediatricians are the best people to diagnose Autism. Pediatric neurologists and child psychiatrists can also diagnose it.

Based off the CDC website, here are some early signs:

  1. Not talking – by the age of one your child should have 1-3 words. By the age of 2 they should have over 150 words and be putting 2-3 word phrases together. It’s a concern if they aren’t imitating animal sounds, environmental sounds (i.e. Car goes vroom), and individual sounds.
  2. Repeating the same words and phrases – your child is talking but is not using words to communicate. Your child is repeating phrases from their favorite tv show or repeating what you say to them. If someone asks your child their name and you prompt them with, “Say, My name is Timmy.” They repeat, “Say, my name is Timmy.” instead of just “Timmy.” This is called echolalia. Your child can label letters, numbers, and shapes but isn’t trying to communicate what they want and need to you with words. It’s great they are talking but we want your child to talk for the pragmatic functions of requesting, protesting, greeting, calling out, and asking for help.
  3. Not playing appropriately – lining up toys in a certain way or playing with toys the same way each time. Fascinated by a specific movement or part, such as the wheels of a car or a ceiling fan.
  4. Craving movement – they seem hyperactive. They cannot sit and attend circle time at daycare or story time at home. They exhibit a lack of body awareness, bumping into things or appearing “clumsy.” They may spin in circles or flap their hands.
  5. Not pointing – they are not pointing to get your attention and won’t look at what you are pointing to.
  6. Tantrums – they may cause self harm such as head banging or scratching themselves. The tantrums occur when transitioning between activities, when things aren’t “perfect” (i.e. All the doors have to be shut), or change in routine. They may show more aggression towards others.
  7. Behaviors – excessive sensitivity to noise, textures (will only wear very specific pieces of clothing), or food. Walking on their tip toes beyond the age of 2. They are calmed by repetitive movements.

These are just some examples of the early signs for autism. Every child is different and because your child may exhibit some of the traits listed above, it does not mean your child is or is not autistic. If you have concerns, you should consult your pediatrician. Early detection and early intervention is most important for these kiddos.

early signs of autism spectrum disorder