9 Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers and Babies: Signs I Missed as a Mother

They say as an autism mom you have an ah-ha moment where you simply know yup, my kid has autism.

9 Signs of Autism in Toddlers and Babies that I missed as a Mom

A Focus on Developmental Milestones

As a new mom, I was so enthralled with milestones, watching my baby grow, wanting to be there every step of the way. You see, milestones are important for various reasons. As parents, we measure our children by them.

Milestones give us this intense sense of pride, you beam with happiness watching your child complete a milestone. We publically share milestones like, “Billy rolled over today.” You can sense the excitement as the parent shares these words. “Annabelle started crawling today,” and you smile along with these parents because you know these milestones are important to them.

We automatically ask about milestones when talking to about our children, is Sally sitting up on her own yet? Has she taken her first steps? At times milestones can be stressful, is my baby ok? Is he delayed? Milestones measure the performance of a child’s development by looking for delays and ways to provide early interventions.

Logan was born with his eyes open and really alert for a newborn. I can remember joking about how observant he was, he was just taking it all in. Logan met most of his milestones early, holding his head up, rolling over from back to front, talking, walking, all his milestones came quickly and easily to him.

Perhaps too quickly, but as a new mom, I didn’t know the average. Completing a milestone was like a right of passage, the sooner the better, right?

Looking back now I can see many signs of autism that I missed because I didn’t realize that you could be advanced and have autism.

Maybe I simply just wasn’t ready to acknowledge the signs or symptoms of autism. Maybe I was just a new mom so enchanted with my new baby and the milestones he completed, that I didn’t think about the ones that he wasn’t meeting. Either way, the signs were there, I simply missed them.

Technology is amazing, we have easy access to our phones which allows us to take quick photos and videos. Reflecting on these videos was bittersweet, looking at his toothy smile, hearing his giggly laughing, and then there it was in so many videos and pictures, autism. Bam! There it was autism symptom. Bam! Autism red flag. Bam! Autism, autism, autism.

So, I am going to share with some of my personal videos and share some of the signs that I missed, expose my vulnerability as a mother, in hopes that it helps your family.

Early Signs of Autism in Logan

1. Not Responding To His Name

This is a common autism symptom and red flag. Babies and children should respond to their name by 7 to 9 months.

Logan is 13 months in this video. I say his name several times with no response or interaction. I am legit holding him and still no response. Yet, I am not alarmed by this behavior at all. I keep just saying his name and hope that he turns around, so we can send his Mimi a birthday wish.

Logan still has difficulty today responding to his name.

2. Stimming and Spinning in Circles

I pretty much thought that Logan was just active and all boy. He likes jumping, spinning, and climbing. This behavior started when Logan was fairly young. I have several videos of him spinning around and singing.

I now know this is an outlet for Logan and is his self-soothing behavior. Stimming and spinning is pretty much a daily occurrence in our house. He will also stim by running in circles and repeating the same phrases over and over.

If you are not familiar with stimming, it is a repetitive behavior that a child does in order to self-stimulate. It can be in the form of spinning, repeating phrases, rocking, hand flapping, and other behaviors that the child finds stimulating. I took this video because I thought he was so cute singing and spinning but yup, missed this very apparent sign as well.

3. Hand Flapping

While Logan does some hand flapping as a self-stimulating activity, he prefers to spin. I have been able to pinpoint his hand flapping to periods when he is very excited.

This is the earliest video that I found of Logan hand flapping. Logan is 8 months in this video. Autism is the farthest thing from my mind in this video, my baby is saying his first words and yay, my baby is talking!

If you notice in the video he is flapping before he speaks and begins to flap again afterward. I won’t hold it against him that his first word was Da-Da.

Hand flapping is another stimming behavior and an autism red flag.

4. Unusual Use of Language

Logan’s language was never delayed, he hit the milestone on time, but his use of language was different. He could say words, label everything, he had an enormous range of his vocabulary. Yet, he had difficulty putting more than two words together.

He scripted early on using lines from cartoons and movies to fill in voids of conversations. He was able to script appropriately so it was easy to miss that his language was often unusual, different, and lacking.

He was able to memorize whole songs, singing them back and forth with the right tune without missing a word. He could say the words milk, water, and cup but never used his words to ask for them.  He also communicated in a sing-song manner, like in this video you can hear him as he says “Mom, don’t get maaaadd.”

He uses echolalia as well. Echolalia is where a child repeats back information that they have previously heard. Sometimes it is right away, like in this video where he repeats a phrase I say, or it can be delayed which a type of echolalia that Logan frequently uses. He will randomly repeat lines from shows, conversations, and sayings around the house. Echolalia is pretty common in autistic kids.

In the video below Logan just turned 2 when I took him to Sesame Street for the Christmas program there. He learned Jingle Bells after hearing the song one time.

At the beginning of the video, you can see Logan begins with some stimming and a phrase “I can’t understand a word you say” which is an example of his delayed echolalia.

You can watch the video and see that Logan had the usage of many words. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I missed this too.

I didn’t really think about the function of language, the pragmatic use of language, I really didn’t even think about the flow of language. I thought his words were language. Logan said words, so he talked, his speech wasn’t delayed. That was my understanding, I was wrong.

5. Lack of Joint Attention

Lack of joint attention in a autistic baby boy

There was never any “hey mom, look at that airplane.” There was a lack of focus when showing Logan things and cool stuff. As you can see in the picture above, Mike is pointing at the ape, but Logan is the least bit interested.

We have lots of pictures like this. Because Logan’s vocabulary was so large, I just assumed he wasn’t interested in the things we were showing him.

Joint attention is where two people are sharing one interest together, usually, this is a parent and a child.  There were many times I would show Logan something and he would not look at it or engage in what I was showing him.

Logan also didn’t initiate joint attention with either of us. No, “hey mom, look at the dog” or “look at my favorite toy.”

Again, this was my first child and honestly, I didn’t even know what joint attention was.

I thought it was my job to show Logan the world, I didn’t look at the perceptive of viewing the world together. Logan also lacked pointing and rarely used gestures. All red flags of autism.

Joint attention is now an occupational therapy goal of ours.

6. Food Aversions

I pretty much thought this was a normal part of feeding. Toddlers are picky eaters. They love goldfish and puffs.

Logan was a little different. There were some foods that I would give him like rice, pasta, and oatmeal that he would refuse. When I would have him try to eat them he would gag, vomit, and cry. Soft mushy foods are just not going to happen for Logan.

Logan is 16 months here, probably the last time he attempted to eat pasta.

Gagging, vomiting, panicking, pushing food off his plate still happens. This is a sensory issue, not a picky eater issue. Being a picky eater is common in toddlers. Gagging and vomiting, however, is not being a picky eater.

You can see in this video that he doesn’t even get the chance to taste the food, it is the feel and texture of the pasta that is bothering him. He is trying to wipe it out of his mouth, he wants nothing to do with it. I didn’t know the difference.

7. Covering his Ears

Autistic baby boy with noise sensitivity covering his ears

Everyone knows that sign right, why didn’t it alarm me?

Because Logan is selective about covering his ears.

For example, if he turns on the vacuum no problem, but if I turn it on immediately his hands go to his ears. So he didn’t consistently cover his ears and doesn’t always cover his ears with loud noises, only if they are high pitched and if they are unpredictable or unexpected.

I guess I just didn’t put it all together like I said earlier I didn’t know much about autism. I surely didn’t know that signs could be shown so early. Covering his ears, it still is noise sensitivity. It wasn’t consistent so I overlooked it. Check that as another sign of autism I missed.

8. Flat Affect, Lack of Facial Expressions

Collage of autistic toddler boy with flat affect

Flat affect is the lack of facial expressions or blank facial expression. Sometimes his facial expressions do not match his words.

Autistic children have difficulty with understanding facial expression.

Sometimes Logan’s face will remain expressionless in situations that you expect a reaction. He has difficulty reading facial expressions which can make mimicking facial expressions even more difficult.

I’m not saying that Logan doesn’t have facial expressions, but he generally has a flat affect or blank-faced.

I never noticed this until I had my second child and watched her facial expressions developed. Her facial expressions and her animated responses were very different from Logan’s.

Don’t get me wrong, he smiles when he is having an enjoyable experience, he laughs and giggles when I tickle him, but generally, he has a flat affect. This is his normal, he is still simply adorable.

I wasn’t aware of this as an early sign, and looking back I am kind of shocked that I didn’t notice the lack of facial expressions.

9. Obsessions

Fixations and obsessions are common in autistic children.

Logan’s first obsession was Buzz Lightyear. Buzz still holds a strong grip on Logan’s interest level and seems like another member of our family.

But his other obsession is letters. At 18 months Logan could recognize and identify any letter. While this is pretty stinking amazing, it is atypical.

While it brought me immense pride that Logan was able to do this, it also was a shocking reality that Logan’s brain worked very different from his peers. After sharing this video, I had several friends who reached out to me to say “Logan is pretty unique,” “My kid is the same age and can’t do this,” and “my kid is 3 and can’t do this.”

I am thankful for those friends because they opened my eyes which helped me begin Logan’s journey in getting the interventions he needs. This was my ah-ha moment. This was the moment that I realized that something was different.

Awareness Makes Early Intervention Possible

The average child is diagnosed at the age of 3. Logan was 3 years and 9 months.

Many autism symptoms and signs are visible by 18 months of age. Some of Logan’s were visible as early as 16 months.

There was a delay in the course of getting Logan interventions because I simply wasn’t clear on the signs and symptoms of autism. My lack of clarity regarding the possibility of Logan having autism hindered Logan from getting a diagnosis.

The signs and symptoms can look different in every child with autism. No one child with autism is alike. Monday morning quarterbacking is always easier to do than looking at the situation clearly.

I am sharing my experience as an awareness for others who may not know the signs or symptoms of autism. Seeing an example may provide some clarity to others. I hope to encourage parents who are questioning their child’s behavior, those who are unsure, and those who are looking for an answer.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of autism brings awareness and promotes early interventions. Early interventions are key in the optimal outcomes for autistic children.

If you noticed red flags or signs and symptoms of autism with your child I encourage you to seek professional medical guidance. Consult your child’s physician and contact your local state program related to early interventions for babies and toddlers.

Like I previously said no autistic child is alike, autism signs and symptoms can vary from child to child. These are the signs that looking back now that I clearly missed in my own child.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician. I am simply a mom to a 4-year-old autistic child, this post is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This post is an exposure of my own child’s early signs of autism. If you have concerns regarding your child please contact your child’s physician.

Read more about our journey with autism:

Autism Spectrum Disorder: What I Didn’t Understand About It

The Autism Diagnosis: Why I Took So Long To Accept My Son’s

Autism explained to a child: A conversation with my niece

Why trying to get autism services sucks and what you can do about it

Leave a comment below with some of the signs or symptoms of autism that you noticed. Don’t forget to share this article if you found it helpful. Let’s promote awareness together so that other parents may identify these signs or symptoms early.

15 thoughts on “9 Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers and Babies: Signs I Missed as a Mother”

  1. Such great information in here. I have researched autism a lot and I really believe you will help another parent with the information and perspective you give in this post. Logan is one lucky boy to have such a wonderful mama!

    • Thank you so much, Renae. I am hoping that this post helps other families recognize the signs and symptoms. It was hard reflecting back on the signs that I missed but so thankful for early interventions. Thank you for learning about autism and being aware and accepting… and for your kind words.

  2. This is such a great post! It’s so hard looking back and realizing hindsight is truly 20/20. As moms we also have to remember to give ourselves a break for not putting it all together sooner. There were signs in my daughter when she was an infant. From just a few months old she would avoid eye contact, turn away from kisses, and arch her back if you tried to hold her close (unless it was mommy, she was always super attached to me and I think that was just because I was her only source of food). She was only 9 months old the first time my husband proclaimed she was autistic and I yelled at him. Now, I wish I had listened sooner.

    • Jessica, It is so interesting that you say that .. My husband had a hard time accepting my son’s early signs and symptoms. There is a difference between suspecting my child has autism but it sure is hard to take that step to get a diagnosis. I am so thankful for our early interventions. Parenting is hard, but special need parenting sometimes is a whole different ballgame with such great rewards.

    • Hi Jessica- just saw this and I’m at that point now with my 9 month old. Can I ask what other signs you noticed that your husband thought this was the case? Would so appreciate it 🙂 thank you

  3. Having Autism is very hard. I was diagnosed with Autism around 6 I believe , I’m 24 now. There is such an amazing community out there. Autism is more common than you think and there’s more awareness about it today. But everyone should always spread more awareness!

    • Mary, I can imagine having autism is difficult. I wish I could understand the ways my son understands and interprets the world. He notices the most amazing details and has a fantastic memory. Society has come along way in the past decade with autism awareness. I am hoping it comes even further, I want the world to be an accepting and loving place for my son when he is on his own. More understanding of neurodiversity and for him to be safe if he has a meltdown or needs to stim. Thanks for sharing with me Mary, as a Mom I appreciate it.

    • Dear, Mary and all, thanks a lot for sharing!
      I wonder what happens when a child turns into 21 y.o. and from social glad and active into reserved shy tired and avoids even own family. Anything you may memorise from this age? Any suggestions to make our sad pale 21-year old son to talk. He is very capable otherwise, but has diagnisis a light retartedness and autism. We are a loving family, but we feel helpless to bring a smile back to his face.

  4. A funny thing about them not looking at all at the cool stuff you’re trying to show them…the fact they appear to show zero interest can be misleading. My son showed seemingly zero interest in all kinds of things and it depressed me, he didn’t talk at that time. Years later when he as talking he talked about things we’d done that he’d seemingly shown no interest in. He remembers them and he’d been interested but I think showing interest and engaging was all too intense, so while he took it in he distanced himself. As parents we can act too excited about tings for our autistic children to cope with, they have a hard time dealing with intensity of others behaviour, emotions, or even just the sounds we make.

  5. Oh my God! Oh my God! This IS my 3yr old daughter! I have been pushing for early intervention since she was 18mths, but the pediatrician kept assuring me that it was a speech delay. I had to go through the daycare to get an early intervention specialist from Babies Can’t Wait to see her.

    When she turned 3 in May 2019, her pediatrician finally agreed with what i have been saying all along, and referred us to the Marcus Institute for Austim. They have informed me that the waitlist is 10mths long. So, as of now(August 2019), my child has not even has an observation to identify the problem. The school district still hasn’t scheduled one, three months after i have providing them with all the information they asked for.

    She is my first child, and all of this is very overwhelming. Sometimes, i feel so helpless that i cannot understand when she tries to communicate. She has a whole vocabulary of words, but doesn’t string them together as sentences. She loves peppa pig and uses phrases from the show to communicate sometimes.

  6. My spouse and i felt so thrilled when Raymond managed to deal with his basic research using the ideas he came across using your site. It is now and again perplexing to simply find yourself releasing hints that people may have been trying to sell. So we know we now have the website owner to give thanks to because of that. All the illustrations you have made, the simple website navigation, the friendships your site make it possible to instill – it’s everything fabulous, and it is making our son in addition to our family reason why this situation is excellent, and that’s rather indispensable. Thanks for everything!

  7. I am reading this and I am like this is my granddaughter she is 14 months omg ! She is doing the walking in circles and covering her ears and the lack of facial expressions. I will continue to watch and observe and see then make a doctors appointment. Thank you for the helpful information.

  8. Would you be willing to share if Logan’s diagnosis is severe, mild, etc…? I know there’s etiquette around this stuff and I do t know it yet, so sorry if this is a faux pas. My son is 24 months and this article maybe my ah ha…

  9. My son has Asperger’s. For those who don’t know what this is, it is a disorder on the autism scale. It is considered high functioning. Fortunately for me, I knew something was wrong before he was 6 months old. Thanks to an observation from my mother. I got him early intervention at about 2 years old. ( I couldn’t get anyone to see him until them after numerous phone calls and hours of research. This was 29 years ago so awareness was the same as now. It is hard work and time consuming to get all the services to help your child. However, it was time well spent. My son is now a father himself and if you didn’t know him or his issues, most people would never know he has a form of autism.
    Unfortunately, my grandson who is a year old is displaying quite a few of the signs my son did when he was a baby. Hand flapping over ears when over stimulated by sounds. spinning is circles, sensory issues as far as feel of clothes and blankets.
    The great news is I have experience with this and am currently working on navigating the system to get my grandson early intervention.


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