Autism Symptoms and Screening for Toddlers

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically begins in early childhood, although the symptoms may not be recognized or officially diagnosed until later in life. Most pediatricians now provide a screening for children as young as 18 months old.

The M-CHAT-R (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised) helps medical professionals identify common autism symptoms and behaviors that may indicate a child is on the autism spectrum. With this information, parents and medical providers can start looking at potential treatments early on to help reduce the social and behavioral issues related to autism that can impact a child’s life.


How Can I Tell if my Child is Autistic?
According to Autism Speaks, a US-based autism advocacy organization, autism symptoms can show up as early as the first few months of life; however, that’s not always case: “The timing and severity of autism early signs vary widely. Some infants show hints in their first months. In others, symptoms become obvious as late as age 2 or 3.” Not all kids exhibit clear symptoms at an early age, but there are some common signs to look for with toddlers 12 months and up, including:

  • A lack of communication skills, including talking, smiling, waving and responding to one’s name
  • Repetitive behaviors (rocking, spinning, repeating certain words or phrases)
  • Avoiding eye contact, even with people they know
  • Strong preference for being alone vs. playing with other children
  • Unexpected and intense reactions to sounds, lights, tastes and smells

Please keep in mind that this list of symptoms is not exhaustive, and some toddlers may exhibit a few symptoms without being diagnosed as autistic. Other children may not show any clear symptoms until a later age. Diagnosis is complicated, which is why it’s so important to have your child screened early on by their pediatrician.


Early Screening is Key
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all toddlers be screened for autism symptoms between 18-24 months of age. Having a few red flags pop up during the screening doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Instead, the information is used to start a discussion between the pediatrician and parents about behavioral concerns, language delays and other symptoms, along with additional diagnostic tools related to genetic, developmental and neurological testing.

Are you concerned about your child’s development or seeing red flags in their behavior? The best place to start is to contact your pediatrician for an appointment. Be sure to share all of your concerns and bring along a list of behaviors that you have witnessed. Working with your child’s pediatrician is the best way to get an accurate diagnosis so they can start developing an effective plan moving forward.