Signs of Autism and Toddlers

Every parent worries about their child’s development and every parent hopes that their child will excell in at least one area.  When your toddler does not seem to be developing in line with his or her peers, it can be a worrying and distressing time; arming yourself with facts is a great first step in becoming your child’s advocate and supporting them every step of the way whether they are delayed or meeting their milestones.

Toddlers begin to play together as they grow and develop.

Toddlers begin to play together as they grow and develop.

Once the first year or two of babyhood is over, parents begin to look forward to hearing their child speak their first words, to begin more independent play and to enjoy the growth of their child in every sense.

Because children are individuals  some may meet milestones earlier or later than others; first words can come as early as ten months or even sooner with some…whilst others may not say much at all until they are two years old.

Both of these examples are within the parameters of expected development and either side of these ages is also typical. Speech is one indicator that a child is engaging with the world around him and understanding the speech of his family and friends.

If your child is approaching three years old and you have noticed that they are not developing as quickly as other children, some questions to ask yourself include the following.

  • Does my child understand commands? Can you ask your child to fetch a coat or their shoes? Do they follow simple instructions such as “Put your hat in the bag.”?

Language and understanding is sometimes an issue with children who are on the Autistic Spectrum; they may have delays in speech and understanding so following commands or even answering to their name can be a struggle. Conversely, some children on the Autistic Spectrum may have very advanced and sophisticated speech.

  • Does my child engage with other children, playing alongside them happily and beginning to engage in shared play? Do they know how to take turns?

Although three year old children are essentially self-pleasing creatures, they should be beginning to learn some social rules such as empathy and turn taking. They should show concern for others in a minor way, perhaps patting a child who has been hurt or offering a toy to a smaller child.

  • Does my child engage in pretend play? Do they “feed” their dolls and bears? Can they pretend that objects are something different…a shoe box becomes a boat for example or a pebble turns into a cake.

Imaginative play is an important developmental stage in toddlers and as they learn and engage with the world around them they begin to role play familiar scenarios. A typically developing three year old should pretend to feed a doll, create imaginary worlds based around play figures and be able to share these scenarios with caregivers.

  • Are they sensitive about certain environmental factors? Loud or shrill noises for example or rough textures.

Typical toddlers love to imitate the adults around them.

Some children who are on the Autistic Spectrum have sensitivities which can make them uncomfortable with loud noises; hand dryers, sirens, crying babies and loud music can upset them. The same can be said for rough edges on their clothing or toys.

If you have any concerns regarding these factors, seek the advice of a medical professional  early intervention can be a huge factor in helping children to learn the life skills they need to excell in life. Remember that some children may display one or two of the above traits and not be on the Autistic Spectrum at all; only a qualified professional can diagnose Autistic Spectrum disorders.

Try not to compare your child to his or her peers too much as some will develop more quickly than others. Trust your instincts and if something is worrying you, do not hesitate to visit your doctor and voice your concerns.