Could My Child Have Autism?

Checklist of Autism Symptoms Before You See the Doctor

Boy playing with blocks at a table
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No individual symptom is a sign of autism. In some cases, it can be tough for even a professional to diagnose an autism spectrum disorder. But if your child has several of the following symptoms, it might be a good idea to consider an autism screening or evaluation. 

Speech Delays

Children with autism spectrum disorders almost always have challenges with speech and language.

These challenges, however, vary radically from one another. Some children have obvious speech delays or no speech at all. Others use plenty of words, but they either use the words oddly, have an unusually flat voice, or misunderstand the intended meaning of words.

Play Skills

Children with autism interact differently with toys and potential playmates. They might line up objects rather than use them in pretend play, or enact the same pretend scenes over and over again. They are most likely to prefer their own company than the company of other children or to demand that playmates interact with them in certain predictable ways.

Unusual Physical Reactions and Behaviors

People with autism often have odd physical behaviors that set them apart from their peers. They may rock, flap, or otherwise "self-stimulate," often as a way to calm themselves. They may over- or under-respond to sensory input, including pain.

They may also avoid eye contact, even when talking to other people. While none of these behaviors is, in itself, a sign of autism, all of them can be part of the autism "package."

Physical Symptoms

Sleep problems and delays in gross and ​fine motor skills are common in autism. Gastrointestinal (GI) problems may or may not be more common among children with autism.

While research studies suggest a slight increase in GI issues, many parents say their children with autism had or have serious problems with constipation, diarrhea, and/or vomiting. Again, none of these symptoms, individually, are signs of autism but combined with other symptoms, they may raise enough concerns to warrant an evaluation.

Less Common Signs

Quite a few people with autism combine other symptoms with a very precocious ability to read, and/or unique responses to sound, color, letters, or numbers. Autistic savants, who represent a small percentage of the autistic population, may have amazing abilities to memorize information, do complex calculations, play piano, and so forth—much like the character of Raymond in the movie "Rain Man." As with all signs of autism, these signs do not suggest autism in and of themselves.

When to Seek an Evaluation

If you've read through this checklist and find that your child seems to exhibit some of these symptoms, now is the right time to seek an autism evaluation. Start by contacting your pediatrician and asking for a referral to a clinic, developmental pediatrician, or another specialist. If your pediatrician can't help, consider contacting your school district for suggestions.

Why should you seek an evaluation before your doctor suggests it? The reality is that parents are often the first to notice their child's differences and delays. After all, your pediatrician only sees your child once a year, or when he's sick, so she may not have a chance to see what you notice every day.

There really is no downside to seeking an evaluation. While you may discover that your child is NOT autistic, chances are you've discovered some issues that can and should be addressed while your child is young. And if your child is autistic, now is a great time to start providing therapies that can give your child the tools she needs to be successful.