Sunshine pediatrics

Spotting the Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Toddlers

Feb 01, 2024
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Your child eats and sleeps well and is growing by leaps and bounds — but something seems off about their behavior. Could it be autism? Read more to learn the signs to watch for.

With each pregnancy, every parent wants one thing: a healthy baby. But there’s more to health than having ten fingers and ten toes. 

Some conditions, like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), appear later.

ASD is a complex developmental condition that affects your child’s behavior and communication. It’s called a spectrum disorder because people with ASD can have a range of symptoms, from mild to severe. 

Parents know their children best and can likely spot the signs before others. Trust your intuition and seek medical attention if you have any concerns. You can also trust board-certified pediatrician Dr. Min Jung to recognize your child’s early symptoms and start an effective management plan.

At Sunny Hill Pediatrics in Frisco, Texas, we know that every child is unique, and the appearance of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean your child has ASD. However, early detection and intervention can give your child a huge advantage. Here’s what you should know about ASD symptoms.

Why early detection of ASD is important

Research shows that early intervention treatment services for ASD can improve a child’s development. Although we can sometimes diagnose ASD in children younger than 2, some children exhibit typical normal behaviors for the first few years and only show signs of ASD between ages 2 and 3, or even older. 

Early intervention services can help your toddler with ASD learn vital skills. The sooner they get help, the better their progress will be.

Symptoms of ASD

Identifying ASD in toddlers can be challenging, as symptoms vary widely. Here are some common signs:

Delayed speech

Most children begin to communicate through words or phrases between 12 to 18 months. If your child isn't using gestures, such as pointing or waving, by 12 months or hasn’t spoken a single word by 16 months, it may be a sign of ASD.

Lack of eye contact

Eye contact is an essential part of human communication. Children with ASD often do not make eye contact, which can make it difficult for them to interact with others.

Social interaction difficulties

A child with ASD may not respond to their name by 12 months or might show little interest in interacting with others, including parents and peers.

Repetitive behaviors

Repetitive behaviors or interests are common in children with ASD, which include lining up toys, flapping hands, or repeating certain sounds or phrases.

No hand gestures

At 12-18 months, kids usually point to things of interest, wave goodbye, and clap their hands to show joy and emotion. 

Does not interact with other children

By 3, most kids develop the ability to interact with other children. If your child doesn't notice other kids and shows no interest in playing with them, it may be a sign of ASD.

Does not pretend

Playing roles and imitating characters like superheroes should occur by age 3-4.

Insists on order and routine

Children with ASD often get upset when things are out of order. They play with their toys the same way, line up objects, obsess over specific toy parts, and react negatively when the order changes. 

Keep in mind that these are only some of the many potential signs and symptoms of ASD, and they don’t necessarily constitute an ASD diagnosis. 

Possible causes of ASD

Researchers don’t know the exact cause of ASD, but it’s believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. For example, parental age at the time of conception, maternal illness during pregnancy, specific difficulties during birth, and low birth weight may contribute to ASD.

ASD diagnosis and treatment

An accurate ASD diagnosis requires careful monitoring by an experienced physician like Dr. Jung. At Sunny Hill Pediatrics, we provide the appropriate screening to assess and recognize your child’s behavior and development for early signs of Autism, and work closely with many specialists who conduct diagnostic evaluations and therapies for ASD.

However, you are the first line of defense. If you notice any of the warning signs of ASD, talk to Dr. Jung about your concerns. 

Treatment for ASD often involves a combination of behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and most importantly, ABA therapy. Dr. Jung may also recommend medication to manage severe symptoms. Every child is different, and we tailor your child’s treatment plan to their specific needs.

ASD resources for parents

If you’re looking for more information or support, here are some helpful resources:

  • Autism Speaks: a comprehensive resource offering a wide range of tools and services
  • National Autistic Association: provides information, support, and pioneering services
  • Autism Society: offers support groups, education, and advocacy for individuals with autism and their families

Your parental instincts are vital — so trust your gut. If you suspect something isn’t quite right with your child's development, don’t hesitate to request an appointment with Dr. Jung — use our online scheduling tool or call our friendly staff today at Sunny Hill Pediatrics.