Autism presents itself through a spectrum of symptoms and can manifest very differently from child to child. Appearing in infants and young children, autism can result in delays in many areas of development, especially communication and social interaction. An autism diagnosis can often provide answers to parents as to why certain aspects of their child’s development have been challenging. Despite some common misconceptions about people with autism and their emotional and intellectual abilities, there is no reason why people with autism cannot live full, happy and successful lives, filled with meaningful relationships and friendships.

One of the main issues in diagnosing autism is the lack of medical testing to do so, resulting in it being something that can be missed or misdiagnosed. Some infants can show signs as early as a few months while others can have behaviours emerge as late as 2 or 3 years old. I always say that you know your child best so it is really important to trust yourself as a parent and go with your gut. An early diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference in your child’s progress and give them the helping hand that they need to thrive. During the first three years of a child’s life, treatment can be more effective due to the amazing neuro-plasticity of the brain.

As a parent, you are in the best position to observe your child as you may pick up on any repeated behaviours and patterns that it can be difficult to identify in the clinic during a first appointment. That’s why familiarising yourself with the red flags is important and can really help focus in on what you should be looking out for. I’ve listed what would be considered as red flags for autism but please remember that all children are different and will present with differing combinations of these, even siblings will not necessarily be the same or act the same where autism is concerned.

According to the DSM-5 criteria, for there to be a diagnosis of autism you must first note an impairment in social interaction and communication as well as restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities. Here are the main warning signs to look out for from infant ages upwards.


  • Does not make eye contact or finds it difficult to maintain
  • Not smiling or laughing while playing
  • Overall disinterest in interacting with others – often a child with autism will give more of their attention to objects rather than people
  • Not responding to their name being called (it’s also a good idea to rule out any hearing issues if this is the case)
  • Struggles to pick up on other people’s tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures


  • Lack of babbling or ‘baby talk’
  • A general lack of gestures such as waving, clapping, shaking head for no, stretching their arms out to be picked up etc
  • Does not point at objects that they want or show you items (e.g. toys) that they are playing with
  • Not imitating actions or sounds that you make
  • May start to speak later than their peers
  • For an older child or toddler, a loss of language skills or ability to connect with other children may be a red flag although this also doesn’t  happen in every case


  • Behaviours can be identified as repetitive while interests would be described as limited
  • Can have rituals that they complete such as lining objects up or arranging in a particular order
  • Develops an attachment to traditionally unusual items for a child such as kitchen utensils or inanimate objects that are found around the home (keys, light switches etc)
  • An excessive interest in an item or activity that results in further disassociation from social interactions
  • Spends lengths of time watching moving objects or focusing on one specific part of an object (e.g. wheels of a car)
  • An over or under reaction to certain sights, smells, textures or sounds – may be extra sensitive to loud noises
  • Repeats the same actions or movements such as hand flapping, rocking, head banging or twirling. (Known as self-stimulatory behaviours or stimming)
  • Follows a rigid routine that they struggle to deviate from
  • Shows signs of distress at any changes in regular routine or environment

A large majority of my work as a speech and language therapist is working with children with autism and I feel privileged to have been able to help some amazing children and watch them progress. Regardless of a child’s diagnosis, their therapy will remain the same and we will work together as a team to set and meet appropriate goals. I will look at a child’s strength and weaknesses, liaise with the family and plan therapy accordingly. Having a child diagnosed with autism will not change any of your child’s amazing traits or take away from what they have already accomplished. The hope is that it will enable us as parents and caregivers to understand them better and support them as well as we can.

Contacting a professional may feel like a huge and daunting step but I cannot stress how important it is and how helpful it can be to your child to seek professional advice if you have any worries at all. Making that call as early as possible can really make a difference.
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