Figuring out the first signs of autism
Every child who has autism is unique and has their own set of behaviours, needs and strengths. There are some common ways that children with autism tend to communicate, behave and play which are different to other children. It’s really helpful to identify these characteristics so you can understand them and help your child and your family navigate the difference.
Common social challenges for a child with autism
Social development occurs very early for most children. Most infants with typical development will turn towards a voice, gaze at faces and even smile by the time they around 3 months old. However, a child who is later diagnosed with autism may not exhibit these behaviours before their first birthday. For example, they might not respond to their name or be very interested in people, or ‘babble’ as much as other children.
Recognising the different social challenges for a child with autism can help us understand your child’s perspective. SDN professionals like speech pathologist, teachers and occupational therapists can assist families to develop some goals to work towards and to find other ways to help your child to navigate life.
Some common social challenges can include:
Less likely to share experiences with others
Children with typical development will often pause during an enjoyable experience to look at their caregiver and smile, finding joy in sharing the feeling. A child with autism may not have learned this skill yet.
Doesn’t respond to interactions or initiate interactions with other people
A child diagnosed with autism may not interact verbally or by imitating, which can make it challenging to play with others.
Language skills are delayed so it can be hard to keep up with simple conversations
Sometimes a child with autism will use language that doesn’t match the experience or current situation. They may also repeat certain words or phrases.
Other behaviours that might occur in a child with autism
A child with autism will often have a delay in their language development. Sometimes a child may also be sensitive to their environment – crowds, noises, light or touch may be overwhelming to them. Repetitive behaviours and a restricted range of activities are common in a child who has autism.
Little or no imaginative play
Children with typical development will often role-play the things they see adults do – like cooking, ‘feeding’ dolls or putting them to sleep. But a child who has autism may play with toys differently, for example, the child may tap a train and train track together, rather than drive the train on a track.
Challenges with routines
A child with autism may struggle to adhere to routines imposed externally, such as meal times, toileting or bedtime routines. Once a child who has autism has adopted a routine, however, they will often find it very challenging to adapt again when that routine changes. They may respond by withdrawing or with a big tantrum.
A place with loud noises can be very upsetting to a child who has autism as it can be hard for them to focus and can cause great distress. Sometimes a child with autism may avoid certain textures or bright lights. Conversely, a child with autism may be soothed by certain sensory stimulations, for example, they may try to chew or put things in their mouth far more often than a typical child will do at their age. A child with autism may seek out bright light, or certain fabrics.
It is very common for a child who has autism to become obsessively interested in playing with one or two toys, or in talking about a particular topic.
The brain of a child who has autism works a little differently, and understanding how their brain works and developing a customised approach to maximise their learning (like the individual approach SDN provides), will give your child the best start to their education.
Finding ways to support your child
Part of the process of supporting a child with autism is recognising that there are some behaviours that your child does not have much control over. This can help your family realise that some of the ways that your child might act or respond are as a result of their diagnosis and the challenges they have communicating what they need or coping with the environment they are in. Understanding the way the condition impacts your child is important for your family and your child so you can all find ways to adapt.
Working with experienced professionals will help you identify your family’s goals and have a realistic idea of what you can expect and a plan for how to get there.
SDN’s therapists support children with autism to overcome the challenges they face, such as supporting them to play and interact so they can engage and learn. You can find out more about SDN Children’s Therapies.
What to read next
- Feel like something's not quite right? Here's what to do if you feel that your child might have a disability or developmental delay
- See how SDN is different and how we work
- Get a quick start on our therapy products or browse all of our therapies