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Do you have a difficult toddler or is it autism? Is my toddler being stubborn or is it autism? 

Those are just two of the questions that a new parent may ask themselves- especially as the number of children being diagnosed with autism continues to rise. 

For our family, we at least had an inkling that something could be wrong.

It was just one of those gut feelings that we couldn’t quite shake. That something just wasn’t right. 

And it was this one glaring thing, this one obvious sign of autism.

Those initial signs of autism can be tough! But would you know what to look for when it comes to the early signs of autism in toddlers? How do you determine when it’s just a toddler being a toddler vs. recognizing signs of an autistic toddler?


Autism is on the rise in the United States and around the world to the point where some are even calling it an autism epidemic.

Whether this is truly the case or if medical professionals have just become better equipped and more informed when it comes to what to look for; autism is not going away anytime soon. As a parent, would you know what to look for when it comes to the early signs of autism? It may be difficult to discern in a fidgety toddler.




Coming from personal experience, I wanted to share with you how to recognize signs of autism in toddlers. My oldest daughter was diagnosed right around her second birthday. I was blindsided and my life changed. But we had a diagnosis and from there, I could create a plan.


Would you know what to look for when it comes to the early signs of autism in toddlers?

How soon can we see the early signs of autism?


Research suggests that autism can be detected during the child’s first few years of life, and in order to best treat and plan an early diagnosis is actually ideal.


One theory suggests that signs of autism can sometimes be spotted from the moment of birth. A newborn child may be less responsiveness to stimuli, failing to anticipate movement, and paying little attention to their mothers or caretakers.


I am doing some research on this as well as I am in the mindset that it is impossible to diagnose autism in infants. Later in life? Absolutely yes. But infants? Not so much. I’m still skeptical about whether or not you can diagnose autism in older infants but the research is certainly interesting.


One of the most important things to keep in mind, regardless of when your child receives a diagnosis, is that autism is a spectrum disorder. Though there may be similarities from one child to another; generally speaking no two children are exactly alike.


As parents, we want to know what to look for right away when it comes to the first signs of autism, as this developmental disability is known to cause serious impairment to the child’s behavior, social interactions, communication skills and adaptability.


Children with autism may develop slower than peers of the same age. Autistic children are also more vulnerable to some illnesses and conditions, such as allergies, respiratory insufficiency, digestive disorders and so on.


Autistic children are also sometimes different from typically developing children judging by aspects like personality, skills and abilities. Their behavioral development is affected by the particularities of many environmental factors.


You can still give them a hand by considering some of the best educational toys for autism in toddlers.


It is difficult to diagnose an infant or a small baby with autism, as the signs of autism are very subtle at such an early age. New research, however, is suggesting that it is possible to see signs of autism in infants.



They still may look the same as their typically developing peers. In fact, to suggest that autistic individuals look different from their peers is absolutely ridiculous. 


Some toddlers may just have ongoing behavioral issues or it could just be the age. They’re toddlers, after all, and toddlers are known to be quite stubborn creatures. Or your toddler may have an issue with hitting others.


Sometimes, however, parents are able to detect the presences of certain abnormalities in the development of their child. Although parents aren’t always able to tell exactly what makes their child different from other children of the same age, it is very important when they discover such behavioral particularities. This is also where something like Early Intervention services may come into play.



At the opposite pole, some parents fail to notice any abnormalities in their children’s behavior, thinking that they might just develop slower than others. It is important to say here: it is not the parent’s fault. Do NOT fall into that guilt trap of special needs parenting. I say this with love and experience. It is NOT your fault.


You, as a parent, are the most familiar with your child’s development. And you may have concerns. You may not. But if you do have concerns, bring them up with your child’s pediatrician.


For that matter, if you know someone who’s child was recently diagnosed? Keep in mind that now, more than ever, they need your support. They need your love and understanding. They do not need your judgement. Here are a few things you shouldn’t say.


Making Sense of the Different Types of Autism in Children


One  interesting form of autism is regressive autism.

I say interesting because well… you’ll see shortly.

Many children seem to develop normally until they reach certain periods of their early childhood, when the first signs of autism suddenly occur. At this point, children experience a deterioration of their social interaction and communication skills.

This is similar to what happened with my daughter. One week she was playing peek-a-boo and asking for bubbles. The next? Gone.

The symptoms of autism in children include nonverbal and verbal communication skills, along with odd facial expressions and speech difficulties. The language used by the children in the autism is often immature, unimaginative and not concrete.


How to Recognize the Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers



The language will be stilted in nature- usually but not always. With kids who are showing signs of regression, they will typically have language delays. Keep in mind that all of these symptoms may not be present in all children with autism.


Children with autism can also be less aware of stimulus in the external environment. This could cause issues when it comes to sensing pain. Your child may have incredible sensitivity to pain or have a higher pain threshold. In some cases, they are unable to recognize their parents after the first few months of life.


Autism in children can lead to toilet training problems.


Autism also has the possibility to hamper the child’s ability to smile and show emotion and can end with behaviors, such as walking on tiptoe, sensory meltdowns, unpredictable behavior, strange postures, staring at hands, flapping hands, and rocking back and forth.


The above behaviors are often referred to as “stimming” though not all children will display them.


They may also prefer playing alone, remain aloof, and become segregated from other children. Autism in children may cause the child to become obsessed with one action or topic, and extreme confrontation to change of any kind.



An autistic child may want to set up a separate environment for themselves and also may establish their own behavioral patterns. They may not be interested in playing alongside family members close to their age, but could be welcoming to adults.


Early intervention is key when it comes to treating autism. Here are a few early signs of autism to look for in toddlers.

More Early Signs of Autism to Look For


– poor responsiveness to their own name and selective responsiveness to sounds (children with autism may ignore certain sounds, while responding to others of the same intensity);


– difficulties in joint attention (autistic children don’t usually follow the movements indicated by their parents and refuse to concentrate on objects that are shown to them);


– poor imitational behaviors (unlike typically developing babies, small babies with autism don’t often imitate facial expressions and gestures like hand waving, smiling, making faces);


– lack of understanding of others’ feelings, difficulties in relating with other people (autistic children may often have poor emphatic skills and are often unable to show compassion to persons in distress; in most cases they ignore their parents when they fake an injury, showing no facial expressions that may reveal their concern);


– the inability of understand and play imagination games or “pretend” games (normal children like to pretend for instance that they are feeding a doll or they imagine themselves to be someone else; children with autism show no interest to such games, failing to imagine things to be different than they really are).


It is incredibly important to pay attention to potential signs of autism in the development of small children. But, you always want to keep in mind: sometimes it could just be a developmental issue. All children develop on their own time.


The signs manifest at an early stage in a child’s life and it is certainly possible to diagnose an autistic toddler.


Autism in children usually manifests in two forms: individuals exhibit the symptoms of autism within the first few months of life, or the child would be apparently “normal” up to 18 to 24 months of age, and then the symptoms would occur suddenly.

What Causes Autism in Children?


The exact root cause of autism is still unknown in that there is no universal factor. There is speculation that autism is genetic – perhaps it is as you will often have multiple autistic children in one family. There is also research to support environmental influences and factors.


Point being, the exact cause is not known. Research is still being done and I can’t see that going away anytime in the near future. 


That is why parents should not blame themselves if they feel that they had been negligent in taking care of their kids during infancy, or if a mother thinks she might not have properly taken care of herself during pregnancy.



Just as the definite cause is still unknown, there is no definite treatment to “get rid” of autism. In fact, the very notion is ridiculous. Autism is a neurological disorder. It is not a disease. You shouldn’t seek to “get rid” of your child’s autism.



What happens if my toddler is autistic?


Embrace it. And remember: your child is still your child. Love them unconditionally.


The family may have to stick to a definite lifestyle to adjust to the needs of the child. This would require extra patience also. Send the child to a special education school. If the autism is relatively mild, be sure that you inform ahead the teacher or the principal of the condition.


More than anything else; simply make the child feel your loving care.


Autism in children is considered a lifelong disability. And yes, they will grow up to be autistic adults.


What once was referred to as “severe or classic” autism is now along the lines of Level 3. And what was once called Asperger’s or High functioning is now along the lines of Level 1. Terms change and definitions are expanded. But, that doesn’t slow us down as parents, does it?


The parent or caregiver is also going to need support and help during this time. I would recommend taking a look at these books:



What to Expect with an Autistic Toddler


Because autism is so different in every child, it is still a tricky disorder to diagnose and there is no “universal procedure” in place.


However, there are a few key ways in which doctors can efficiently identify autism in children (that have been discussed previously), and if your infant or toddler is showing any of these signs of autism, you should visit your pediatrician immediately to express your concerns.


If your pediatrician will not listen, persist. Consult with a developmental pediatrician or child psychologist if needed.




The first step to diagnosing autism is a thorough physical examination as well as a review of family history by a specialist. Although your regular pediatrician will be able to spot unusual behavior, you’ll want your child to be examined by a professional who specializes in autism and other similar diseases to make sure your child is properly diagnosed.


The next step might include hearing tests.


Sign language and social skill delays could be due to inadequate auditory sensations. There are two types of auditory tests, one of which records the tones a child can hear and the other of which requires sedation and measures the brain response to certain tones.


Of course, the first method is preferred, since it does not require any use of a sedative. After auditory testing, your doctor may encourage testing your child for Fragile X syndrome, which often times goes hand in hand with autism. Metabolism can also be evaluated. To do this, your doctor will need a blood or urine sample to analyze DNA.


An MRI or CAT scan can also be helpful in diagnosing autism. The important thing is to work with doctors you trust. Second opinions can be very helpful, but when your child has been diagnosed, stick with one doctor so that treatment is uniform and so that your child will get used to this person.


Autism is difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat, so remember that you should begin to learn as much as possible about the disorder as soon as your doctor identifies it.


However, there are so many new therapies and existing therapies available. Discuss your options with your child’s pediatrician, special education teacher, etc. Ask around in your local community. Explore every option available to you and your child.


Find the ones that work for you and your family. Don’t give up.


If you have yet to speak with your doctor about abnormal behavior in your child, do so immediately. An earlier diagnosis means an earlier opportunity to begin therapy.


And though it may not seem like at the time, receiving a diagnosis of autism is a good thing.


Would you know how to recognize the signs of autism in toddlers?


Early intervention is key when it comes to treating autism and doctor's are now able to recognize it earlier. Would you know how to recognize the signs of autism in toddlers?
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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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