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Identifying Autism: 9 early signs of autism

Autism support

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, approximately 1 in 100 Australians today have autism. So it’s quite common, especially among males, who appear to be diagnosed more often than their female counterparts. 

Although autism presents itself uniquely in each individual, there are some common similarities and signs that can help with the initial diagnosis. Early detection is crucial for creating healthy pathways to a happy life. Usually, parents will notice signs of autism between the ages of 5 and 14. First, we’ll explain the different types of autism, then some of the early signs to be aware of. 

Types of autism

Asperger syndrome: This is the mildest form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome have difficulty with social interaction and usually prefer to be alone. They may also have obsessive interests and repetitive behaviours.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly known as “Childhood Disintegrative Disorder”): This is a more severe form of autism that is characterised by regression in social, communication, and behavioural skills after a period of normal development. People with ASD often have impaired motor skills and may be nonverbal.

Rett syndrome: This is a rare disorder that affects girls almost exclusively. It is characterised by normal early development followed by a period of regression in social and communication skills. Physical symptoms include impaired motor skills and seizures.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder: This is the rarest and most severe form of autism. It is characterised by regression in all areas of development, including social, communication, behavioural, and cognitive skills. Children with CDD may also have epilepsy or other medical problems.

There are many different signs of autism, and they can vary widely from person to person but the most common signs include:

  • Difficulty making eye contact or engaging in back-and-forth conversations

One of the earliest signs of autism is a lack of eye contact. A baby with autism may avoid eye contact or may look at people without really ‘seeing’ them. They may also seem to be looking past people, or they may not respond or show interest when someone new enters the room.

  • Prefers not to be touched or held

Some autistic children prefer not to be touched or held, even by people they know and love. They may stiffen or pull away when someone tries to hug them. This is because touching is unemotional for them and can make them feel uncomfortable and stressed. 

  • Doesn’t respond to their name

An autistic child may not respond to their own name, even though they can hear it. This can indicate their lack of receptive language skills. This is usually the first indicator that there may be a lack of understanding of how to communicate with others. This sign is noticeable in children younger than one year. 

  • Has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their feelings

Autistic children often have trouble understanding how other people feel and expressing their emotions. This makes it more challenging for them to interact with others. It’s not that children with autism don’t have emotions, not at all, it’s that they struggle more to identify and describe what they are feeling. 

  • Repeats words or phrases over and over

Autistic children may repeat words or phrases, especially if they’re feeling stressed. This specific characteristic is called echolalia. The child will word-for-word repeat something someone has said, whether that be on TV or at home. 

  • Gets upset by small changes

Autistic children, understandably, have a hard time dealing with change. Even small changes like wearing different clothes or a slight deviation from the known procedure can cause them a lot of stress. This reaction is noticeably different from a childish tantrum. 

  • Has obsessive interests

Another sign of autism is an obsessive interest in a particular thing or activity. Usually, it’s something that ensures a level of predictability like train schedules or history. It could also be an interest in collecting things like rocks or bottle caps. The telling indicator is when the child’s interest is very specific or unique. 

  • Flaps their hands, rocks their body, or spins in circles

You might notice your child express themselves through one of these ways, like spinning or flapping their hands. We call this self-stimulatory behaviour, it’s a way the child can release excess energy or calm themselves when in a stressful or uncomfortable situation. 

  • Unusual sensory sensitivities

Another early sign of autism is an unusually intense reaction to sounds, lights, or textures. A child with autism may cover their ears when there is a loud noise, or they may be bothered by seemingly innocuous things like the feel of a particular fabric. This is because they have more sensitive sensories than others.  

Living with autism

There is no one-size-fits-all list of signs of autism because every individual experiences the disorder differently. However, what we have shared are some common early signs that may indicate a child is on the autism spectrum.

Early detection is key to living a happy and healthy life, so if you are noticing signs of autism, get in touch with your pediatrician. At OSAN Ability we provide disability support for autistic children and adults, so if you’re a family member looking for support, give us a call

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