Autism Symptoms in Toddlers

Autistic toddlers often prefer solitary activities.

Recognizing autism symptoms in toddlers is difficult, as toddlers naturally have limited language and social skills.

Identifying Autism Symptoms in Toddlers

Autism is a complex disorder that presents differently in each child it affects. The disorder manifests as delays in five primary areas: social interaction, language, cognition, motor skills, and sensory processing.

Symptoms of autism begin before the age of three years, and may be obvious by 18 months. Because the disorder typically begins during a period of early development when language and social skills are just beginning, diagnosis is sometimes delayed for months or years. Knowing the specific signs to look for can help you identify autism symptoms in toddlers.

Symptoms that May Indicate a Problem

According to the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center, regression is often the most obvious symptom of autism in toddlers. In approximately 25 percent of autistic children, regression and loss of skills appears between 12 and 24 months of age. This regression may present as a reduction in spoken words or a loss of interest in interactive games.Other early autism symptoms in toddlers may include:

  • Inconsistency in responding to his or her name
  • Failure to use gestures to indicate needs or wants
  • Inability to follow simple directions
  • Failure to respond to sounds, some or all of the time
  • A lack of age-appropriate gestures, such as waving bye-bye after 15 months
  • Loss of vocabulary
  • Violent tantrums
  • Staring and other visual eccentricities
  • Playing with toys in unusual or inappropriate ways
  • Hyperactivity
  • Failure to return smiles
  • Oppositional or defiant behavior
  • A lack of eye contact
  • A preference for solitary play
  • Walking on his or her toes
  • A lack of interest in other children
  • Unusual attachment to certain toys, objects, or routines
  • Memorizing songs, scripts, or stories
  • Refusal to eat more than two or three different foods

Evaluation and Diagnosis

While the presence of the above symptoms does not mean your child is autistic, it should be a cause for concern. If your child displays several abnormal behaviors, speak with your pediatrician about having him evaluated for autism. Early diagnosis and intervention is essential to ensure the best possible outcome for your child.

If your pediatrician shares your concerns, she will refer your child to a specialist in autistic disorders for further evaluation. In most cases, professionals will measure your child's IQ and language skills, and then observe him in social settings to determine his motor coordination, social abilities, behavior, and response to sensory stimuli.

Treating Autism in Toddlers

Treatment of early autism consists of a combination of occupational, speech, and physical therapy. Depending on the severity of your child's symptoms, he may require daily, intensive therapy to encourage language development, teach self-help skills, and promote social engagement. In many cases, therapy must continue throughout life.


Early identification and treatment of autistic disorder is crucial to minimizing the effects of the disorder on the child's development. By learning to recognize autism symptoms in toddlers, you will ensure your child has the best possible chance at independence.

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Autism Symptoms in Toddlers