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Over the years, medical professionals and parents have come to realize that the earlier autism is diagnosed, the better. As parents, we need to know what those initial signs of autism are and how to look for them. But what about after the toddler years? What about learning to recognize the signs of autism in preschoolers? How do we best support preschoolers on the autism spectrum?

How are the signs of autism in preschoolers different?

Honestly, the signs of autism in preschoolers are very similar to the signs of autism in toddlers. In fact, there are what you could call “universal signs” or “universal signals” of autism in early childhood. And, it usually starts the same way.

You, as a parent, are concerned about your child’s development. 

This may be especially true if your child is in daycare with children of their age group. 

First things first, you’ll want to address your concerns with your child’s pediatrician. Unsure of what to ask? I have a sample list of suggestions in my new autism diagnosis toolkit.

The evaluations at this stage are mostly play based and will focus on the following areas of development and ability:

  • Social
  • Behavioral
  • Emotional
  • Pre-Academic

Based on this initial evaluation, and information provided by you, further steps will be taken to see if your child is eligible for special education services. 

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Typical red flags of autism in preschoolers

As mentioned above, the evaluation looks at certain areas of your child’s development. Here’s what they’re typically looking for in each area:

Social Communication and interaction:

  • Difficulty with give-and-take 
  • Less likely to use eye contact
  • less likely to enjoy in interactive games such as peek-a-boo
  • Less likely to seek out peers
  • Often slower to use single words or phrases
  • Less likely to use common gestures (though not always)

Some children will also regress with their speech.

Behaviors and interests:

  • Often show a more narrowed range of interests 
  • More repetitive behaviors (ex. lining up toys)
  • May exhibit stimming behaviors (though stimming is NOT always indicative of autism)
  • May be over or under sensitive to sensory stimuli (ex. smells, sights, sounds, touches, etc.)

Can my autistic preschooler attend a “normal” preschool?

Well, that all depends on your preschooler and the type of support that they’ll need. 

Some children on the autism spectrum are gifted or above average. Some may have significant delays in other areas of development that may stop them from participating independently in a classroom setting. 

For some children, this may mean going to a specialized school that helps children on the autism spectrum. 

For other children, this may mean having that extra layer of support within a typical preschool setting.

It really does depend on the child and the results of their evaluation.

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Digital Product Creator at Kori at Home
Kori is a late diagnosed autistic/ADHD mom. She is currently located in Albany, NY where she is raising a neurodiverse family. Her older daughter is non-speaking autistic (and also has ADHD and Anxiety) and her youngest daughter is HSP/Gifted. A blogger, podcaster, writer, product creator, and coach; Kori shares autism family life- the highs, lows, messy, and real. Kori brings her own life experiences as an autistic woman combined with her adventures in momming to bring you the day-to-day of her life at home. Kori is on a mission to empower moms of autistic children to make informed parenting decisions with confidence and conviction.

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