What Are the Initial Signs of Autism?

Michele Zipp
Toddlers & Preschoolers

boy on slideMom intuition is very often spot on -- we're in tune with our kids, we know when something is just not right or when something is going to be just fine. So when we interviewed a group of moms who have children with autism and asked them for the initial signs, many felt they knew what was going on even without a doctor's diagnosis because of how their child was acting and developing.

Some moms mentioned how their child didn't play with typical toys, or didn't make eye contact. Some displayed incredible genius, others had odd sleep patterns, or their language wasn't developing, and some had a lack of attention span and social interest. Here are their stories about the initial signs they saw in their child ....

At the age of 2, he and I were taking a Mommy and Me gymnastics class, and the instructors pointed out that he walked with his feet turned outward. He had also been a late walker as well as late with some other physical milestones. We hadn't thought too much of it at the time because he'd been born a month premature and at a low birth weight. We were told he'd probably be a bit delayed with his milestones for the first year or two … But the gymnastics teachers suggested we look into an Early Intervention evaluation. -- Andrea, mother of 9-year-old boy

My daughter was a little over a year old when I noticed some odd behaviors. She loved to stare at ceiling fans and loved holding spoons and straws in her hands. She didn't play with typical kids toys. She'd eat for two hours and sleep for five minutes, then restart. -- Carole, mother to 14-year-old Jackie

When he started crawling across our pool table to line up the pool balls in numerical order -- clearly a symptom of his autism -- we just assumed he was a genius. It was only when he wasn’t talking by his two-year checkup and a hearing test ruled out deafness as a cause that our pediatrician suggested we get Jonah evaluated by our county’s Early Intervention Team. -- Amy, mother to autistic son Jonah, 11, as well as a 9-year-old, 7-year-old, and two 3 1/2-year-old twins

I've always known that Tommy was different. The first sign was his sleep pattern; even as a newborn, he never slept very much. -- Jaderica, mother of 4 including Tommy, 7-year-old with autism

We began the early intervention process at his 2-year appointment when we expressed concerns to our pediatrician that his language didn't seem to be developing "normally." He wasn't adding any words together to form phrases. He had learned and then lost some words (they'd literally disappear from his vocabulary). He had many single words, but they were fairly difficult to understand. -- Ali, mother of Simon, 8, with autism, and Anna, age 1

A visiting pediatrician friend pointed out Leo's lack of joint attention and social disinterest when he was 20 months old, but we were in denial and didn't get hopping until he was 2, when his nursery school teacher suggested we have him evaluated. Everything snowballed from that point. We had a full-time home ABA therapy program in place by the time he was 2 1/2. -- Shannon, mother of three including Leo with autism

We saw RJ's behavior change dramatically at 2 -- no more eye contact, he wasn't communicating. He'd started to say his first words. Those stopped. He wasn't connecting with his twin sister, and he wasn't responding to his name. There was about a year from the time we saw this change and the time we actually got the diagnosis. That was a very stressful year. The doctors said he was fine. There's nothing wrong with him. He's a boy. He'll be fine. He'll grow out of it. All that stuff. It'd be one thing if that's how he was from the beginning, but we were seeing him do things and look at us in the eye -- and when that stops all of a sudden, how is everything fine? So it was a difficult journey for us at that point. -- Holly Robinson Peete, mother of RJ, 12, with autism, and daughter Ryan, 12, Robinson, age 7, and son Roman, age 5

Jon was fixated on all things blue. He was reading 20 books a day instead of playing. He could recite the capitols and per capita income of different states, class and phylum of dinosaurs. Heck, he knew that the giant sea turtle was an endangered species and lived off the coast of the Galapagos Islands. If you asked Jon to play with another child, he couldn't do it. I told the doctor he could read. My husband laughed and said not to listen, that he was a 3-year-old child and not to be silly. Not only could he read, he read the answer key upside down and backwards. -- Dawn, Mother of autistic son Jon, 11

Well, when Zachary was very young, maybe 8 months old, he would bang his head a lot. Since he was born prematurely, and was super small and had loads of health issues when born, we thought maybe his neck was just weak, because it wasn't a constant banging. He would hold his head up and look around, then drop his head and hit it 2 or 3 times, then look around again. It wasn't until Zack started kindergarten and was getting into trouble daily that I looked at it seriously ... as a behavioral problem of some sort. -- Liz, mother of autistic Zachary, 8, and Liberty, 5

If your child has autism, what were the initial signs you saw in your child? Are you concerned about autism in your family?


Image via longhorndave/flickr

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