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Although most children who are diagnosed with autism are diagnosed by age 3, there are milder cases that are not diagnosed until preschool or later. Earlier diagnosis is best, but if you find that your preschooler is displaying characteristics of autism: get them screened. Again, the sooner the diagnosis is made, the sooner that intervention can begin and the better the outcome for the child diagnosed with autism.
Certain autism signs are generally the same throughout development. Socially these include:
- A child not responding to their name.
- Not making eye contact or looking at people.
- Lack of smiling.
- Not cuddling.
In communication development the autism signs include:
- Not speaking or severely limited speech.
- Not initiating conversation or interaction.
- Echolalia—the meaningless “parroting” of words that are heard without the child understanding the meaning of the words.
Behaviorally look for:
- Repetitive movements.
- Fixation on routines or rituals.
- Self mutilation.
If at anytime during your child’s development you notice any of these autism signs you should not hesitate to have your child screened.
As your child enters the preschool years there are unique indicators of autism that you may notice. Remember that a child’s development is unique and not all children will reach milestones at the same time. Preschoolers are naturally becoming more social beings: making friends, enjoying conversation with adults, and enjoying being the center of attention. Children displaying autism signs may not do any of those things. Autism affects a child’s social, communication and behavior development.
In addition to the autism signs that are generally the same throughout development for social skills, you can watch for the following social symptoms in preschool age children:
- Child does not pretend or have imaginative play
- Child does not participate in social games or social play
- Child does not have the ability to make friends.
- Child does not seek help or interact with other children or adults.
- Child plays alone.
Language development in preschoolers is truly phenomenal. The toddler who spoke only two to three words just a short year ago is now the preschooler who is likely to be a regular chatterbox. Typically developing preschoolers enjoy talking and playing with language: making up words or combining words in ways that they find amusing. Autism signs for language development in your three to five year old may include:
- No language or very limited use of language.
- Regression or loss of formerly acquired language
- Echolalia-the meaningless repetition of words spoken by another person.
- Lack of ability to begin or maintain a conversation.
- Repetitive language or very unusual language.
- Inability to read non-verbal cues from other people such as facial expressions and body language.
- Takes words literally, unable to understand sarcasm or joking. A smiling and laughing adult saying “don’t do that” means the same as a red faced adult screaming “don’t do that.”
Preschoolers are an amazing age group when we consider their behavior. Most preschoolers are beyond the age of toddler temper tantrums. Preschoolers can generally be reasoned with and made to understand natural consequences. The majority of preschoolers want to behave and do what their parents and caregivers ask of them. This is generally an easier time for parents than the toddler years and a welcome time! Autism signs in behavior development become more apparent in the preschool child.
- Routines and rituals are extremely important for a child with autism. Something as simple as having strawberry pop tarts instead of blueberry for breakfast can ruin an entire day.
- Repetitive movements such as rocking, spinning, hair twirling, and hand flapping.
- Self mutilation– scratching till bleeding, picking at sores, pulling their own hair out, biting themselves and head banging.
- Overly focused on certain objects or activities
- Improper use of toys. Instead of rolling cars on the floor the child chooses to line all of the cars up in a specific sequence of colors or sizes.
Recognizing autism signs and symptoms is important! Early detection, diagnosis, and intervention are best for optimal outcomes. If your child is diagnosed in preschool verses the toddler years, do not panic. This does not mean that the outcome for your child is devastating. The important thing is to begin intervention as soon as possible.
A great book for concerned parents: (note-this is an affiliate link, so if you purchase this book we will receive a small percentage of the sale. We use this money to cover hosting cost, as well as donate to worthy autism foundations.)