How to Recognize Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers

Updated May 10, 2017

The Autism Society of America reports that autism occurs in one of every 150 births. With a wide spectrum of autistic disorders, two of the most common traits are difficulty communicating and interacting with others. Recognising signs of autism in toddlers is just as much about recognising what is normal at their age as what is not normal. If their speech is delayed, if they fail to make eye contact or seem to not hear or choose to not pay attention, these could be signs of an autistic disorder.

By 12-months of age, babies should coo and make other sounds when happy or to indicate that they want something. They'll also gesture and point and grab at objects. If they are not doing these things by their first birthday, it could be a sign of an autistic disorder.

By 16-months of age a healthy toddler will be saying simple words and sounds like "dada." Toddlers should also respond to their names and communicate with simple sounds or words and gestures when they want something. Parents may even suspect deafness because of a lack of attention to their words or calls.

A baby should be using two-word sentences by the age of 24 months. Signs of a problem could be a lack of eye contact, inability to mimic sounds or movements or refusal to engage with others. Autistic toddlers will not typically wave goodbye or smile in response to someone smiling at them.

If a child once made cooing or babbling noises or spoke single or two-word phrases, but has stopped doing so, this could be an indication of autism.

A common characteristic among autistic children is the desire to play alone and show no interest in interacting. Autistic children may have a fascination with an object or toy---specifically items that have patterns or a unique texture. Autistic toddlers also may make strange facial expression or seem to stare at people or objects.


Some children may be showing signs of a developmental delay and not an autistic disorder. Many children can grow out of a developmental delay. Tracking the development of your child will help you identify any delays


A deaf child could be mistaken for autistic. The University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center reports that 25 per cent of autistic children begin showing signs after 12 to 24 months. Prior to this, they seemed to be normal babies.

Things You'll Need

  • A child's developmental history
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About the Author

Shannon Marks started her journalism career in 1994. She was a reporter at the "Beachcomber" in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and contributed to "Philadelphia Weekly." Marks also served as a research editor, reporter and contributing writer at lifestyle, travel and entertainment magazines in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Temple University.