What could be the signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

A little boy plays with a drum.

Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disability that affects the way people with autism experience the world. Currently studies have not yet determined a single, definitive cause for ASD. Causes may include genes, brain development, family history and other factors. As a result, a cure for ASD is unknown. No two people with autism are the same. They may, however, have similar characteristics. Learn more about autism.

Signs of autism in babies

Autism is diagnosed based on characteristics, one of the reasons it’s hard to determine signs of autism in children until they are between 18 and 22 months old. Generally, babies and toddlers reach certain developmental milestones at typical points in their life, but it should also be noted that each child develops differently and at their own pace.

Here are some signs of autism spectrum disorder to look out for:

  • Little to no eye contact
  • Lack of a response to their name
  • Not attempting to imitate others’ actions
  • Limited or no reaction to loud sounds
  • Exhibiting a strong interest in unusual objects ((toddlers)
  • Difficulty following some verbal instructions (toddlers)
  • Engaging in repetitive actions.

Please remember that these signs are indicative and not definitive. The only way to get a certain diagnosis is by getting the advice of a medical health professional.

Signs of autism in children

Early signs of autism may start to appear within the first two years of a child’s life. Signs may also change or become clearer and more pronounced as a child gets older.

It’s good to remember that all children develop differently. So, if your child isn’t doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time as your friend’s child, that doesn’t automatically mean you need to start thinking about autism.

Here are some signs to look out for:


If a young child has autism, communication might look different to what you may expect. For example:

  • They may not always, or consistently, use eye contact
  • They might not respond to you calling their name
  • Some may not point to, or hold up, objects to show you things
  • They might not wave or clap without being told to, or without copying a family member who is already using the gesture
  • Some children might not smile at you without you smiling first
  • They may not copy other people’s actions
  • Some might not understand simple instructions.

Relationships and play

The way a child with autism plays and interacts with other people may seem unusual to you. You may notice that they:

  • Prefer to play by themselves 
  • Find it harder to take part in imaginative play
  • Have an intense attachment to a particular toy
  • Play with a toy in a limited way. For example, lining up things instead of playing with them.


A child with autism might also:

  • Have unusual body movements like hand-flapping, walking on the tips of their toes, making unusual noises, back-arching and arm-stiffening.
  • Want to watch the same TV show over and over again or have an interest in certain objects or activities.
  • Be really sensitive to sensory stimulation such as getting upset by household sounds or only eating foods with certain colours or textures.
  • Seek out sensory stimulation by chewing on objects, twirling round and round in circles, making loud noises.

Getting a diagnosis for autism

There’s currently no single test for autism.

To get a diagnosis, you’ll work with a multidisciplinary team that will likely include a paediatrician, a psychologist, a speech pathologist and, sometimes, a psychiatrist and occupational therapist.

Signs of autism in adults

Recognising the signs of autism as an adult might come after a family member gets a diagnosis or through reading information about autism that resonates with you.

While every person’s lived experience of autism is different, here are some things to think about, if you’re considering pursuing a diagnosis.

Communication and relationships

  • Difficulty joining conversations and making small talk
  • Difficulty understanding and responding to non-literal language, such as metaphors and sarcasm
  • Making unexpected or unusual facial expressions or gestures when speaking with people
  • Difficulty understanding the thoughts or feelings of others
  • Difficulty responding to the facial expressions or body language of others
  • Being too direct in your assessments of people and things
  • Finding it hard to maintain eye contact during interactions
  • Finding it hard to make close friendships.


  • Getting upset or anxious when routines and schedules are changed or not adhered to
  • Making sounds that others find unexpected
  • Finding it hard to focus on multiple things at a time
  • Having very specific interests and hobbies
  • Having strong reactions to sensory stimuli.

If you’re looking at getting a diagnosis, start by seeing your GP or your child’s paediatrician. Learn more about what to do after getting an autism diagnosis.

Early intervention for autism

Although there is no cure for autism yet, there’s plenty of support available for both individuals with autism and their family members. If you have a positive diagnosis, you’ll probably start to hear the term ‘early intervention’.

Early intervention simply means connecting a child with therapeutic support as soon as possible. Early intervention therapy aims to help children learn the skills they need to develop to their full potential.

Every early intervention program is different depending on the needs of the individual, which means that figuring out what a child needs is often left to the parent or carer – and it can be a tricky path to navigate.

Start by talking to their pediatrician or GP or someone from the team who helped with their diagnosis. Parents/carers may be introduced to speech pathologists, who help with social skills and communication, psychologists who assist with anxiety and emotional regulation, and occupational therapists, who can help with fine and gross motor skills as well as with executive functioning.

It can sometimes feel like a lot to start off with, but as the child grows, their needs will become clearer and therapies can be adjusted accordingly.

Learn more about how to access early intervention support through the NDIS.

You can book Independent Support Workers through Mable, who are experienced in autism support. Additionally, they also have access to Mable’s Autism 101 training course. You can also find out more about getting autism support through the platform, even without NDIS funding.


Autism can be diagnosed from 12-18 months but a diagnosis is usually made around the age of 2.

All children with autism are different but behaviour is often described as restricted with rigid thinking alongside body movements such as hand flapping, rocking and spinning. Some children may also develop a special interest or attachment to objects.