Are These Symptoms Really Signs of Autism? Probably Not!

False Red Flags for Autism in Children
Verywell / JR Bee

My child isn't talking yet. Is it autism? I can't get my child to make eye contact. Is it autism?

Parents often ask questions such as these, and asking them suggests that you're staying mindful of your child's development.

What appear to be red flags are more than likely signs that your child is developing at their own pace, despite certain headlines pointing to a rise in autism cases. Even if an issue exists, chances are the problem is not autism.

Autism spectrum disorders involve a pattern of symptoms and not just a single delay or quirk. These symptoms must also be severe enough to impair function. And they cannot be explained by other physical, intellectual, or mental disorders.

This article will discuss patterns of behavior and actions your child displays that seem to align with autism but are likely not caused by the developmental disorder.

If your child has any one of the symptoms below, chances are very good that they do not have autism. But if you have any concerns about their development, it is always a good idea to consult with your child's healthcare provider.


Doesn't Respond to Your Call

Your child interacts with you and others and has normal play habits and sensory responses, but doesn't respond to your voice when they have their back turned away from you. This may occur in children with autism along with many other symptoms that point to autism.

You may notice patterns of behavior such as those that involve a sensory processing disorder (SPD) or a lasting and intense focus on objects or topics along with a lack of:

  • babbling or use of words
  • eye contact
  • engagement

If your child is simply not hearing you, there's a good chance they are either very engaged in play or have some level of hearing loss. If you find that this is an ongoing issue, it is vital to bring up the issue with your child's healthcare provider.

There may be no need to worry just yet that your child has autism.


Develops Symptoms After Early Childhood

Your child developed and behaved like most children until they reached the age of 6 or older. Then symptoms that seem to point to autism sprang from nowhere.

In order to for be diagnosed with autism, your child must have first shown symptoms at an early age, even if those symptoms only caused problems in later years. A brand new symptom at age 12 or 14 may look a little like autism, but the likely cause is something else.


Prefers Geeky Hobbies

Your child programmed their first video game at age 10 and can't get enough of Doctor Who. Do these types of hobbies mean your child is autistic?

While many people with autism do love science fiction and may even show special talents when it comes to technology or math, having a penchant for these is not signs of ​autism. In fact, they may be signs that your child is highly intelligent and creative.


Talks Later Than Most Kids

It's true that many (but not all) children with autism are late talkers. Some never learn to talk at all. But if your child develops normally except for not yet using spoken words, autism is not the likely problem.

Speech delays can be the result of many factors. Your child may have hearing problems or other issues that impact the brain, such as aphasia. This can affect the part of the brain that controls language.

The pace at which children develop language skills can also differ. Many of these issues can be treated or even cured.

Meanwhile, there is a good chance that your child's speech will progress in its own time just fine. But if this issue persists, talking with your child's healthcare provider can help address these delays in a timely manner.


Prefers Being Alone

You've heard children with autism tend to be introverts. By and large, that's true. But so are many other people.

There could be many reasons why your child is not overly social. Some of these may be due to real issues while others are not.

For instance, some children (and adults) feel overwhelmed when their senses are overly fired up. A great deal of noise or light can prompt them to withdraw.

Some also prefer to quietly read or draw instead of running around with peers. If your child's development is otherwise on pace but they seem to prefer being alone, shyness may be the real reason they appear aloof.

But if you feel that something more is going on, ask for your child to be assessed. You may need to address ​sensory processing issues or some other problems to help them feel less anxious when they socialize with others.


Shows Learning Problems

Your child hasn't learned letters and numbers like most children their age. Is this a sign of autism?

No! In fact, many children with autism show early interest in letters and numbers, and many start to read at a very young age.

If your child is having a tough time with school, they may simply be developing more slowly than peers. But if you think there's a real issue, it may make sense to have them assessed for learning disorders.


Lines Things Up

Children with autism often like to arrange objects and toys a certain way. In fact, these activities often take the place of real, symbolic play.

But the desire for order by itself is not a sign of autism. If your child lines things up but also plays in usual ways, chances are they simply like to create order from chaos.

If you have concerns, keep a good eye on your child to see whether they line up objects for a reason, or whether it appears to be compulsive. Try to also observe whether they like to play pretend or other games with you or their peers.

If your child develops typically in other ways, you may have no cause for concern. If you are worried, it is worth your while to consult with your child's healthcare provider.


Certain actions or behaviors your child shows (or does not show) may cause you to question whether they might have autism.

Your child may not engage with you or others in the way you expect and may prefer to play alone instead. In fact, they may ignore you more often than not when you attempt to call out to them.

They may not talk as soon as other kids in their age group or they may show a lack of interest in common learning activities.

Bear in mind that common developmental milestones are meant to be a guide. They are not set in stone. You child will learn and progress at their own pace and may interact and play with others in their own way.

Patterns of behavior such as those discussed above may warrant concern. But chances are, they do not mean you child has autism.

Share your concerns with your child's healthcare provider if these issues persist. They can help you pinpoint what may be causing these issues and work with you on a care plan to help your child overcome these issues.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Autism spectrum disorder.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Language and speech disorders in children.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learning disorders in children.

Additional Reading

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.