What are the signs of mild autism in a 5 year old?

Updated July 18, 2017

Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that there are several forms; their types and severity occur along a continuum. Every child with autism presents differently, but there are some common signs of mild autism to look for in a 5-year-old.

Visual Thinking

Many children with autism are visual thinkers.They will respond to and even be obsessed with vibrant colours, spinning objects and bright lights.


Children on the spectrum usually struggle with recognising, expressing and coping with feelings. Such a child can alternate between emotional flatness and near hysteria.


Problems with language are often the first clue that something isn't right in a child's development. There is often a difference with pragmatic or social language skills such as listening, taking turns and making eye contact.


Social skills are challenging for children with an autism spectrum disorder. Children who are mildly affected might be awkward and unsure about how to initiate and sustain relationships.

Sensory Processing

Most children with autism have difficulty processing sensory information. They may show sensitivities, such as being frightened by loud noises, or they may show a need for increased instruction, as they may touch or eat things inappropriately.


Since social, language and sensory processing skills affects play behaviour, a child with autism might look different when he plays. A lack of imaginative play is common in autistic children as well.

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About the Author

Alinda Quinn Ford has been a writer/consultant for more than eight years. She has specialized in business/marketing and academic writing, with in-depth knowledge about children with special needs. Ford earned an M.A. in English in 2003 and taught English at the secondary and/or college level for 12 years.