With autism rates continuing to rise, it’s natural that parents want to be aware of what to look for if they suspect their child has autism. The sooner they get a diagnosis, the sooner they can begin therapy and early interventions to help their child develop any necessary skills.
There are several different signs that a child may be on the spectrum, but your child won’t necessarily meet every single one. If your child is only showing a sign or two, that doesn’t mean they have autism — but it also doesn’t rule it out.
Rob Owen, the father of three boys on the spectrum with a YouTube page titled Autism Family, shares five signs of autism he noticed in his boys before the age of two years old. (We’ve written an article about this family before that shows how they calm down their son during a meltdown and panic attack. Check it out here.)
In this video, Rob explains five signs that babies that are two years old or younger may display, based on research he’s done as well as his and his wife’s experience raising their three boys with ASD.
He primarily focuses on his oldest son, Ian, who showed the most distinct signs of autism and is a higher-needs child compared to his two younger brothers.
He makes a crystal-clear disclaimer in the beginning of the video, emphasizing that these five signs aren’t absolute. Whether or not your child displays these signs is not a clear indication that they do or do not have autism. Babies develop at different paces, and that doesn’t necessarily mean anything is amiss.
The age which these signs crop up — and the intensity of them — can vary.
“Sometimes the signs they [parents] notice happen like a light switch,” Rob says in the video, “where the child seemed typical and healthy in the first year, then all of a sudden, their behaviors change rapidly. For some people, they notice the behaviors have been steadily progressing since infancy. Others may not notice anything until later toddler years, because babies start out being nonverbal, and have many odd or cute behaviors that don’t seem strange at the time.”
Autism diagnoses happen during the toddler years, and Rob usually gives advice to wait until that age to try to seek a diagnosis or become concerned. However, some signs do start earlier, and he’s gotten requests to make a video like this for his YouTube page.
“Your milage may vary,” he reminds viewers.
Here are the signs he goes over.
1. Delayed Ability To Walk
Rob states that walking typically starts when a child is between 9 and 16 months. According to BabyCenter, a child will often take their initial steps between 9 and 12 months, walking easily by 14 or 15 months.
Their oldest son Ian started walking around 2 years old (24 months) and Connor started walking around 1 1/2 years old (18 months). Their son Alistair didn’t experience a delay in this area and started walking at 14 months.
The segment discussing this begins at 1:59 in the video.
2. Speech Problems
Many children on the spectrum have a speech delay, and some are completely nonverbal. If a child is still nonverbal before the age of two, that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually become verbal. However, by age two, most children can talk, saying roughly 50 words, and are able to complete short sentences, such as “Daddy home” or “Dog go.”
Even if your child isn’t talking by two, though, it doesn’t mean they have autism — it can simply mean they have a speech delay.
All three of the Owen boys had delayed speech and all used made-up words. By age three, Ian was still struggling with speech, and still struggles today as a teen.
The segment begins at 2:23 in the video.
3. Sensory Issues
Rob discusses Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and how it can manifest in children. Some children with autism have issues with sensory overload — where sights and smells and sounds can be overwhelming and overload their system, leading to frustration, meltdowns, anxiety attacks, and more. Some people with autism don’t enjoy being touched at all, but some actually have a sensory “craving.” This is where they need sensory input, like strong physical pressure, constant touching, or hugs. One of his sons has a habit of biting because of this need for sensory input.
Segment begins at 3:18 in the video below.
4. Poor Eye Contact
Lack of eye contact is more than simply not looking at someone when they talk to you (though that can be part of it). Poor eye contact can present itself as a child zoning out, or not responding to repeated calls of their name to get their attention. If their eyes are constantly wandering or they seem like they aren’t paying attention, that is also a sign. In addition, this sign can present itself as a child purposely playing by themselves, even if they are in a group, rather than interacting with others.
Segment begins at 4:49 in the video below.
5. Frequent Head Banging
Head banging is another sign that Rob saw in his children Alistair and Ian. He makes it clear that head banging and rocking are two very different things. Young babies rock back and forth when they’re learning how to sit up or crawl. But banging their head is a distinct motion where they are either banging their head against a surface or banging something like a toy against their head, to try to meet a sensory need.
Segment begins at 7:06 in the video below.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.