The early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

The early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Looking back now since we have learnt so much about Autism Spectrum Disorder we realise our son did display a lot of the signs from approx. 1 year. However at the time we did not fully understand what signs we should be looking out for. Prior to his diagnosis we knew he had some developmental delays but we were not sure why. He was diagnosed when he was  2 and 7 months and from then on our understanding about Autism has grown so much.

We think it’s vital for any parent to understand the signs so their child can start to get the supports they require as early as possible.

Below we have listed the early signs of ASD according to the HSE website. We believe this is useful information to help other parents understand what signs to look for. Please note however many of these signs are masculine as original diagnostic criteria were created by examining mainly boys but boys and girls can be very different in their social, communication and behaviour.

Early signs of ASD: 6-18 months

Though it can be difficult for parents to detect, most children with ASD begin to show signs and symptoms between 6 and 18 months old. These signs and symptoms are explained below.

  • Your baby does not follow your gaze. For example, when you look at your watch, a non-ASD baby would copy you and look at your watch as well. Alternatively, your baby does not look at objects that have been pointed out to them.
  • Your baby has no happy expression when they look at you.
  • Your baby does not ‘babble’, i.e. respond in a ‘back-and-forth’ manner when you talk to them.
  • Your baby does not seem to recognise or respond to your voice, yet is aware of other sounds, such as a bell ringing or a dog barking.
  • Your baby shows little interest in drawing your attention to things by pointing to them or pulling your hand towards them.
  • Your baby rarely, or never, makes gestures such as pointing or waving.

Signs of ASD in pre-school children

The signs and symptoms of ASD usually become more apparent as your child gets older.

Problems with language will become more noticeable. It is likely that your child will begin to have difficulty with social interaction. They will also show unusual patterns of behaviour.

The signs and symptoms that often develop during this age are explained below.

Language development

Your child may have delayed speech, or not speak at all. Most children are able to construct two word sentences, such as ‘ball… want’ or ‘me. drink’ by the age of two.

Delayed language development does not usually affect children with Asperger syndrome, but their speech may be affected in other ways. For example, it may sound very monotonous, flat and/or unusually fast.


Your child may have little interest in playing with toys in an imaginative way, yet they play in a repetitive manner.

For example, rather than pushing a toy car across the floor, your child may concentrate on spinning one of the wheels on the car only. Or, rather than using blocks to build an object, they line the blocks up in order of size or colour.

Children with ASD often prefer to play with household objects such as string, pens or keys, rather than toys. They are happy to play alone for hours without needing supervision or attention.

Social interaction

Many children with ASD often appear to look straight through someone. They have little or no awareness of other people.

Your child may have little interest in other children of the same age, or taking part in shared activities.

Some children with ASD may try to form friendships with children but then behave inappropriately, such as suddenly kissing or hitting another child. Or they are unable to understand concepts such as taking turns.


Many children with ASD develop a repetitive pattern of physical behaviour. These patterns are known as stereotypes.

Examples of stereotypes include:

  • flicking their fingers,
  • flapping their hands,
  • rocking back and forth,
  • persistent and unexplained sniffing, and
  • licking objects.

Many children with ASD develop strict routines, such as having to watch a certain cartoon at a certain time, or having to watch their favourite DVD from beginning to end, including all of the ending credits. If these routines are disrupted, the child may have a severe temper tantrum or act in a self-harming way by banging their head or biting their own skin.

Children with ASD often seem unaware of pain and injuries that would prompt other children to seek attention from their parents. Many parents with ASD children notice that their child has a cut or a bruise, yet the child seems happy.

Children with ASD may suddenly become upset and distressed at certain sounds, such as a vacuum cleaner or a motorcycle, or the sudden appearance of bright lights.

Children with ASD often develop a strong dislike for certain foods. This is usually based on the texture of the food rather than the taste. For example, they may refuse to eat soft foods that dissolve in the mouth, or hard foods that need vigorous chewing.