Do you feel like your five-year-old’s quirks might actually be autism? Here are the signs of autism at age 5.
Signs of autism at age 5
Once their child enters kindergarten, parents start to notice their quirky children may not be so quirky after all. This is because a third-party, your child’s teacher, is exposed to a variety of children with different needs and may send notes home like:
- Jane sat alone at recess and played with the grass instead of trying to make friends.
- Jack threw a ball at his friend’s face and started laughing. When I asked him why he did that, he said it was a “joke”.
- Annie talks exceptionally well, but she needs to learn there is a time for being quiet, too.
Your first instinct might be to discipline them, but what if it keeps happening? The above notes are all real notes undiagnosed autistic children received before being diagnosed later down the line.
These are all children exhibiting autistic behaviors:
- Jane (me), preferring parallel play.
- Jack, scripting his behavior and speech before he’s old enough to understand the nuances of satire television.
- Annie, who loves words and doesn’t know when to stop talking.
Here are the autistic traits that might present in your five-year-old.
Interactions with others
Autistic children might prefer to put playground pebbles in their pockets instead of pushing friends on the swings. But they might also try to talk to everyone at recess, even if those kids think they’re annoying.
A caveat to being an autistic child is that we often don’t know the people around us aren’t interested in all the things we say. This lowers self-esteem, because info-dumping is a neurodivergent love language.
Other social signs of autism at 5 years of age:
- not responding to their name
- feels uncomfortable/shows discomfort making eye contact
- doesn’t smile when you smile at them, or does smile forcibly
- struggles to make friends or doesn’t care to make them
- talks a lot about only a few topics and won’t discuss topics they don’t care about
- interrupts you/others when they’re talking
- quietly approaches you and waits for you to say something instead of interrupting what you’re doing
If your five-year-old child is regressing in their development, it could be a sign of autism. The autistic community refers to autism regression as autism burnout or autism fatigue.
Autistic brains are developing quickly, giving the impression of giftedness when that just causes us to slip through the cracks. The more expectations caused by our apparent giftedness, the more likely autistic people are to regress.
Signs of autism in 5-year-old girls vs. boys
Autism often presents differently in girls and boys.
For instance, autistic girls may talk excessively or as little as possible. They’re also more likely to mask their autistic traits due to perfectionism, a societal pressure imposed on many young girls.
Perhaps an obvious sign of autism in a five-year-old girl would be how they respond to stressful situations. Are they stimming more, possibly off to the side and rocking back and forth? Or maybe they appear unfazed, with a plain facial expression? Both are signs of autism in girls.
Whereas autistic boys might just care about control, autistic girls may strive for perfect masking and react aggressively when that perfectionism is broken. Instead of a minor meltdown, the reaction is catastrophic and full of self-loathing.
Additional signs of autism at age 5
Here are other signs that point to the possibility of autism in kids who are five:
- hates certain tastes, sounds and smells (sensory)
- repetitive movements (stimming)
- struggles to understand emotions (alexithymia)
- easily upset if their routine is disrupted (control + comfort)
- avoids physical contact with others (sensory)
- doesn’t seek your approval (no blind compliance)
- struggles to understand what’s real and what’s pretend
- doesn’t remember what you just told them/doesn’t understand what you meant (metacognition)
- incorrect grammar
- only likes a few topics/toys/shows and doesn’t care about much else (special interest)
- difficulty focusing for long periods of time, except when their special interest is involved
Autistic traits are much more nuanced than those you would find in any list. Articles like this one will increase your awareness of a potential autism diagnosis. However, autism is more or less a collection of these traits, appearing on a regular basis.
You’ll learn how to recognize the difference between autistic traits and neurotypical behaviors by following autistic people, and listening to, reading, or watching our stores and content.
While most autistic children do not need immediate autism diagnoses, getting diagnosed earlier can help you understand your child and expose your child to certain accommodations non-autistic and neurotypical children are not entitled to.
Autistic children need to know they are autistic, because they already know they’re different.
Resources for Parents of Autistic Kids