Understanding Early Signs of Autism in Children

Wondering if your child, or a child you care about, might be showing early signs of autism?

In this brief article, the Kids First team shares some of the early developmental clues to watch for.

Common Behaviours in Children with Autism

Social Communication Challenges

Children with autism often encounter difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, which might include:

  • Limited eye contact: Many children with autism may struggle to maintain steady eye contact during conversations.

  • Gestural difficulties: Understanding and using gestures might pose challenges, leading to communication breakdowns when a child with autism struggles to make themselves understood.

  • Speech development disparities: Children with autism sometimes have delayed speech development or use speech patterns that are different to other children.

  • Starting and continuing a conversation: Initiating and maintaining conversations might be problematic because many children with autism find is hard to interpret social cues.

  • Abstract language comprehension: Grasping humour, sarcasm, or abstract language can be challenging for children who are on the spectrum.

Repetitive Behaviours

Repetitive actions and a need for rigid adherence to routines are common among children with autism. These behaviours might include:

  • Repetitive body movements: Hand-flapping and rocking are examples of repetitive physical actions displayed by some children who have autism.

  • Insistence on sameness: Routines and rituals could become crucial to an autistic child’s sense of security and, for some children, deviations might lead to resistance and distress.

  • Fixation on specific topics or objects: While many kids are fascinated by certain subjects, intense interests in specific topics can be a hallmark of autism.

  • Scripting from media: Repeatedly using phrases or lines from movies or shows is a behaviour that some children with autism demonstrate.

Sensory Sensitivities

Children with autism sometimes exhibit unique responses to sensory stimuli, such as:

  • Sensory overreactions or underreactions: Children with autism might be extremely sensitive, or conversely not as responsive to, sensory input like lights, sounds, and textures.

  • Strong sensory preferences: Certain sensory experiences, like spinning objects or particular textures, are sometimes preferred by children who are on the spectrum. These sensory preferences are often seen in what a child with ASD chooses, or refuses, to eat or wear.

  • Sensory overload: Busy or crowded environments can lead to sensory overload and distress for many kids with ASD.

Difficulty with Social Interaction

Navigating social situations can be challenging for children with autism:

  • Deciphering social cues and norms: Difficulty in understanding unspoken social rules and cues is common.

  • Building and maintaining friendships: Because of the difficulties that some kids with autism experience with recognising and responding to social cues, establishing and sustaining friendships might be more challenging.

  • Limited interest in peer interaction: Some children with autism prefer solitary play and might show less enthusiasm for playing or engaging with peers than other kids.

  • Facial expression and body language interpretation: Grasping non-verbal cues like facial expressions can be difficult for children who are on the spectrum.

Narrow and Fixed Interests

Some children with autism have a remarkable ability to immerse themselves in particular interests. This can look like:

  • Specialised knowledge: Some kids with ASD develop an in-depth understanding of niche subjects. While the specific topics can vary widely from child to child, trains, buses, planes, and other modes of transportation can captivate their interest due to their structured and repetitive nature. Many children with autism have a keen interest in numbers, mathematics, and patterns, often displaying advanced skills in these areas. The world of dinosaurs, the planets, weather and collecting objects can also provide a sense of detail and order that many children with autism enjoy.

  • Resistance to diversifying interests: Some children with autism may be reluctant to engage switch their focus from their preferred games or topics of conversation to activities that are interesting to others, but not to them.

What to do if you suspect your child might have autism

If you suspect that your child might have autism, it’s important to take proactive steps to ensure their well-being and development.

Begin by seeking guidance from your child’s GP or paediatrician. Share your observations and concerns openly with them. They can provide a preliminary assessment and, if necessary, refer you to specialists who have experience in diagnosing and supporting children with autism.

Your child’s educators or teachers can also be an excellent source of support. Their insights from an educational setting can provide valuable information that contributes to a comprehensive understanding of your child’s behaviour and needs.

Remember, seeking early intervention and professional advice is crucial, as it can not only lay the foundation for a supportive and enriching journey for your child, but also determine if your child meets the criteria for support through agencies such as Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).


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