Signs of Autism in Children

Child listening to music through headphones

The quality and quantity of autistic signs displayed in children can vary in each case. Sometimes the way signs are shown may change as the child ages or new signs present themselves. The signs may also be dependent on gender. For example, autism can be harder to identify in girls. Each situation is different, and this guide doesn’t have the purpose of being a tick-box exercise that determines whether a child is autistic or not. Instead, it intends to give you some of the signs to look out for and help you decide whether to consult a professional.

Signs of Autism in Younger Children

You may see the following signs of autism in younger children, aged from birth to 11 years old:

  • Not being as aware of their surroundings as they should be. This can involve not responding to their name when it’s called out, not smiling when you smile at them, or not engaging in play activities.
  • Engaging in repetitive behaviour. This consist of repeating the same phrases, flapping their hands, flicking their fingers, or rocking their body.
  • Avoiding social situations. This can include avoiding eye contact or not playing with other children.

Signs of Autism in Older Children

You may see similarities between the signs in younger and older children, aged from 12 to 17 years old. However, they can evolve into new challenges for the child or, on a positive note, strengths as they mature. The signs of autism in older children include the following:

  • Difficulties in social situations. This can involve not understanding what others are thinking or feeling, repeating phrases, talking at others without listening, finding it hard to make friends, finding it hard to interpret information due to slower brain processing or taking what you say very literally if they don’t understand.
  • Heightened worry and anxiety. Autistic children can get very upset if they get asked to do something outside of their daily routine, the room conditions are unsuitable for them, or they are under time pressure created by deadlines.
  • Having interests or hobbies with an intense focus. This can lead to an autistic child becoming an expert or recalling specific date or events in that field.

Boys vs Girls

Autism can be harder to spot in girls compared to boys. According to the National Autistic Society, the ratio of diagnosed autistic males to females ranges from 2:1 to 16:1. This means that potentially there are a large number of undiagnosed females. Therefore, it’s important to understand the key differences in certain behaviours between boys and girls to ensure that everyone has a fair chance of getting an assessment and diagnosis. Some of the differences to be aware of are as follows: