Are you concerned about your child’s development and wondering if an autism diagnosis is possible? Here are the signs of autism at age 3.
Early signs of autism in 3-year-olds
Below is how autism presents in pre-school children. Though not every trait must be present, there must be a pattern of this behavior.
Interactions with other people
Make sure to rule out hearing loss, such as Deafness and other conditions, with your child’s pediatrician.
When interacting with people other than themselves, three-year-old children on the autism spectrum might:
- not respond to their name when called, whether by verbal acknowledgement or looking at you
- exhibit little to no eye contact
- avoid physical contact with others (hugs, holding hands, being too close, etc.)
- lack friendships
- show disinterest in interacting with other people, even when other people interact with them
- not share interests
- limited to no speech, gestures or sounds
- interrupts you when you’re talking
- not seek approval
- has favorite or preferred people (not to be confused with bipolar personality disorder’s Favorite Person; autistic people’s preferred person(s) are “safe” people or special interests)
- quietly approaches you and doesn’t say anything until you react to their presence
- gets upset with change
- favors routine
- stimming (repetitive self-regulatory behaviors)
- unusual reactions to sensory input
- struggles to follow where you’re pointing
- difficulty regulating emotions
- visual fixations, such as obsession with the fan
- meltdowns and/or shutdowns
- easily stressed/frustrated when things don’t work
- more interested in how or why things work or are a certain way, like CGI dinosaurs in a movie or why you can’t see the rest of the TV if you look at it up close, from an angle
- prefers playing alone
- does not enjoy playing with others
- doesn’t take turns or share, even with encouragement
- might not engage in pretend play, such as pretending toys are food
- doesn’t notice other kids or join their play group
- lines up or sorts toys instead of engaging in non-autistic pretend play
- prefers to take toys apart and put them back together, instead of playing with them outright
A note about autistic girls
Autistic girls are less likely to be diagnosed young and more likely to be sexually assaulted. Autism presents differently in girls, because society conditions women and girls to behave a certain way.
For example, girls are guilted into hugging people even when they don’t want to, autism or not. Girls are raised to accept that their bodies are not their own.
Autistic children are more likely to reject being touched, but forced to endure that touch anyway. They learn to suppress their instincts and to be okay with things they’re uncomfortable with. Autistic people are seldom granted bodily autonomy or agency over their lives.
Because of this, all children should be taught the real names of their body parts so they are taken seriously when they tell a grownup what happened.
Autistic girls are more likely to mimic the behaviors of people around them. They may “pretend” to be twins with someone else, understanding the stereotypical context of twins is to be the same. This is an unconscious form of masking.
An autistic girl may present as the “perfect girl” child as a form of survival. Subtle signs of autism will show, but the “perfect girl” concept overpowers autistic traits.
As you review these traits, if you have concerns about your child, be sure to consult a qualified pediatrician. (This article is not intended as medical advice.)
Are you concerned about traits you see in your child? Share in the comments below.