The signs of autism at age 2 are subtle, but not if you know what you’re looking for.
Early signs of autism in toddlers
Here are traits of autism in toddlers to be on the lookout for so you can empathize with your child sooner.
Interacting with parents and other people
Make sure to rule out hearing loss or Deafness with your child’s pediatrician.
Autistic traits in toddlers when interacting with other people include:
- little to no eye contact when someone is speaking, or they are speaking to you
- limited or no speech, gestures and sounds
- little attention-seeking behavior, like pointing to objects and events, or seeking approval for drawings and block-building
- little response to parent’s smile or other facial expressions and body language
- interrupts other people when talking
- behaves better with routine
- quietly approaches people and doesn’t say anything
- has favorite or preferred people
Autistic toddler playtime
Toddlers on the autism spectrum may not play with other children the same way. Autistic traits include:
- doesn’t care about playing with other children, or awkwardly approaches other kids
- prefers to play alone, or engage in parallel play
- plays with toys differently, by lining them up or sorting colors
Early toddler behavior on the autism spectrum
- stimming, e.g. flapping hands, flicking fingers, pacing back and forth
- struggles to follow where you’re pointing
- special interests that mimic obsessions, not to be confused with hobbies
- unusual visual fixations
Everyone engages in self-stimulatory behavior, but autistic people stim on a regular basis. In toddlers, this may look like:
- flapping hands
- flicking fingers
- pacing back and forth
- rocking or swaying
- chewing on certain toys or fabrics
- smelling certain items repeatedly
- playing with hair
- going out of their way to stare at specific objects (visual stimming)
When performed on a regular, repeated basis, stimming may be an early sign of autism. Most stimming behaviors are harmless, but dangerous behaviors should be replaced with safer stims.
If your child is banging their head, that is communicative behavior.
However, if your toddler is smelling everyone’s seats after they stand up, give them a wax melt or candle they really like to replace their awkward, inappropriate sensory need. Growing up to learn you did this as a child while everyone else laughed, judged and stared at you is traumatizing.
Special interests are not to be confused with hobbies
Unlike hobbies, autistic special interests are obsessive fascinations.
Your toddler’s obsession with the Frozen franchise is not a good comparison. A child’s identity doesn’t stabilize until age nine.
Autistic special interests in toddlers will look more like:
- having a favorite or preferred person to be around out of everyone else they see the most
- needing one specific cup, plate, bowl, etc. to eat with
- repeatedly playing with one specific toy
Frequently asked questions about early signs of autism at age 2
Autism spectrum disorder tests and quizzes will give you an idea of whether your two-year-old is autistic. Reading the stories and watching videos of actually autistic people on social media will provide you with greater insight into the life of autistic people that you won’t find reading medical journals.
Are you considered about behaviors with your toddler? Share about it in the comments below.