Autism Signs: Ages Three to Five

We always provide the most relevant information on autism signs and the latest news in the autism community. In order for you to have the latest information hot off the press subscribe to our Autism Signs by Email, or by RSS Feed. We would love to hear about you and your story, please email us at and let us know how you are and if there is any information we could research and post for you.  Have a great day!




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:

  1. A child not responding to their name.
  2. Not making eye contact or looking at people.
  3. Lack of smiling.
  4. Not cuddling.

In communication development the autism signs include:

  1. Not speaking or severely limited speech.
  2. Not initiating conversation or interaction.
  3. Echolalia—the meaningless “parroting” of words that are heard without the child understanding the meaning of the words.

Behaviorally look for:

  1. Repetitive movements.
  2. Obsessions.
  3. Fixation on routines or rituals.
  4. 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.)

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Mozelle Barber 19 August, 2013, 22:45

    Grandson age 3 dx with Autism

  • Jackie 5 February, 2014, 15:16

    I have a question about my student. I know im not a doctor and the mother isn’t open and is denial about her preschooler. This child is four and half years old. She is isn’t potty trained and has a fear of toileting. She repeats what I say without answering or having knowledge of what the word means. She doesn’t like group activities and prefers to play alone. She shreiks when excited. She is missing the top right side of her teeth and the rest of her teeth are silver capped with caveties. Could this be an autistic spectrum?

    • Crystal 23 April, 2014, 21:25

      Hello Jackie,

      No one wants to believe that their little one could have autism. In this case, I would recommend giving the mother as much information or literature as you can find (including links to post on this site,, etc.) and hope that she will at least come to a conclusion to have the child screened by a health professional.

  • Jamie 2 May, 2014, 20:35

    My daughter is three years old as of week ago and over the past year, I have grown progressively more worried that she could be autistic. While I know that diagnosing this condition sooner rather than later is more beneficial, her father and I agreed to wait until now because he was behind in development at this age as well. Over the past month though her behavior has really solidified my worries. Where six months ago she was slowly but surely starting to use actual words, now she’s back to the garbled, first learned version of whatever word she’s trying to say. She doesn’t want anything to do with toilet training and yet hates that she has to have her diaper changed, while her sister who is only four months older is fully toilet trained with no problems. She’s easily frustrated or upset when something doesn’t immediately happen the way she wants it to, she even goes so far as to throw full on raging fits in which no one can touch her without getting hit and/or screamed at. There has also been a number of times that she will bite herself and/or others for absolutely no reason. Most days she prefers to play alone and is very rarely imaginative. She’s gotten into the routine of having a banana to snack on every day and I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t run out because she goes ballistic and her day is downright dreadful until I restock them. Was hoping you might have some tips on how to handle this until I can get her into a doctor to be screened.

    • Crystal 3 May, 2014, 09:51


      As you stated, I would get your daughter screened as soon as possible. Intervention can really make a huge impact, especially at three years old. One item we have seen used with success in the past are picture to do lists. An article with more details about creating and using them can be found here. Constant reassurance and explanation of any change in routine is going to be needed. Lastly, do not do this alone. Even if it may be a while before you can have your little daughter screened, seek help and support. Look for local support groups in your area, or even just another parent with a child that has autism. Just be sure to have your daughter screened by a qualified medical professional soon and before you take any action. Keep us posted on the progress please.

  • Sherene Guiliani 2 May, 2014, 23:50

    My son is normal when it comes to imagination Wanting attention and interaction but I’m most worried about his Sensitivity to noise He covers his ears almost like it’s painfulAnd he does repeat what I say all the timeAnd alsoSets his toys up in lineHe also likes to walk by the same thing over and over and stare at it like a kitchen table staring at And he just keeps walking around itScanning itI am most worried about his sensitivity to noiseIt seems to be getting worse and worse and taking over his LifeIt hurts me to watch this happened to my sonWhat do you think I should doDoes this sound like autism to you

    • Crystal 3 May, 2014, 09:58


      Have you had your son checked by audiologist? The extreme sensitivity to noise is not necessarily an indicator of autism. I would also recommend getting him screened by a qualified medical professional for autism so they can tell you if they think it is autism, and if so, where on the spectrum. If it is autism, it could be a mild case that intervention would drastically improve the prognosis. Let us know how it goes please.

  • shayla 5 May, 2014, 18:50

    My soon to be 3 year old son is showing some signs of autism. He is having complete melt down when a commercial comes on during a show he is watching, or if we are out of his favorite foods. Also he runs and hides when the vacuum is turned on covering his ears. He likes to hit and scream also bit others. When he is mad he will smack himself in the face repeatedly. Im at a loss on how to correct his actions. We are in the beginning stages of having him screened by his doctor and with the birth to 3 program. It becomes very hard to bring him out without a seen being made it is very emotionally draining. He also has a 7 year old brother how is very easily frustrated by him some days any tips on how to help his older brother from becoming frustrated with him and maybe being able to help his younger brother succeed in Devon

    • Crystal 8 May, 2014, 06:54


      Since your son is getting screened now, the chances of early intervention making a difference are greatly improved. One item that we have seen work in the past are picture to-do list. Create a template for every trip that you may have to make (grocery store, doctor, post office, etc.) with a general image of what can take place at various stages in tehe trip. Then, as detailed as you can, talk with your son about the entire process. There is no way to be prepared for everything, but this may help a little.

      A good article we came across about siblings of children with autism can be found here. Like everything else, take what you can use from the article and leave the rest.

      Lastly, remember to take time for yourself. As you stated, caring for another human being under any circumstance can be challenging-more so if the needs of the person are a little higher. Even if it is just five extra minutes in the morning, get up a little earlier and have a cup of tea and just enjoy the quiet time to refresh. Please keep us informed on how things go.

  • melissa 22 September, 2014, 21:30

    I have a child in my class I think may be autistic… but I am not sure since I am not well versed. She has a picture memory but cannot apply what she knows. She avoids eye contact, rocks and hums to herself, plays by herself or not at all, difficulty understanding simple instructions, sometimes she will cry silently for no reason.

    • Crystal 23 September, 2014, 09:02


      What grade do you teach? I would definitely recommend having this young one screened by a pediatrician or qualified intervention specialist. If the child does have autism, what appears to be crying for no reason could be something (even as simple as temperature) in the environment that is affecting them. As soon as possible recommend to the parents/guardian that this one be screened. Some general information about autism in the classroom can be found in this pdf.

  • Ashley Raby 11 October, 2014, 22:59

    Hi, im looking for some answers.. my daughter will be 4 in a few months and is VERY developmentally delayed… I had her evaluated and they told me they THOUGHT she has ADHD and mild cerebral palsy, however she has really good motor skills. She doesn’t talk in sentances at all she only says one to two words at a time she repeats words said by others. But she doesn’t have a fixation on routine, order, numbers. She walks on her tippy toes and has a tight heel cord which will require she wear braces. She is overly hyperactive, she wont respond all the time when u say her name. She was premature born at 35 weeks. im worried that they mis diagnosed her I don’t think they got it right any advise would be very helpful. Thanks

    • Crystal 15 October, 2014, 09:18


      I would definitely recommend a second opinion. These do not sound like the “classic” signs of autism, but the spectrum is wide and she could fall on the scale. Also, do you have a community action agency in your area? Or a local University? Either of those resources should be able to put you in touch with an Early Interventionist. No matter what the diagnosis, intervention at an early age can have a tremendous impact. In most states children that are born premature quailify for services, but your local resources would be able to give you more detail.

  • angela 14 October, 2014, 09:02

    my daughter is 3 years old. she does not have a lot of verbal communications nor does she tell us what she wants specifically like drink and food its basically eat eat and juice or milk she has been diagnosed with mixed expressive- receptive language development delay she still cant speak sentences either. she doesnt want to play with her toys and dont like to share much as well. when im asking her to do something she just stares at me like she dont understand what im asking her to do. could she be autistic? she already is doing speech therapy as she goes to preschool. she flaps her hands, twirls her hair, plugs her ears with her hands, easily crying, wants to steadily be cuddled up to me. just need some answers as to what could be her problems please help

    • Crystal 15 October, 2014, 09:10

      Hi Angela,

      I would suggest a second opinion if your insurance will allow it. One thing we stress is no one knows your child better than you. Some of the actions you describe (such as what happens at preschool). If you have the opportunity, work through this checklist. There is an overview of what is on the list, as well as a link to the actual list at the bottom of the article. I would recommend printing out the official list, completing it yourself, and taking it to your pediatrician/physician if you sense it could be autism.
      A child with autism may experience things on a deeper level than others. The easily crying could be over something that would normally be considered not a big deal. I know it is difficult, but when the trauma shows try to take notes (and if possible have someone else take notes as well) about what was going on at the time. Keep it as detailed as possible so that you may find a way to help. For example, ask yourself: How many people were in the area? What was the temperature? Was the area bright or dark? Loud or quiet? What time of day was it? As well as any other things you notice. After completing a few of these it is possible that you will see a pattern that could help you help your daughter avoid discomfort.


Leave a Comment