Autism Warning Signs

How to tell if your child has Autism.

There’s a common saying about Autism: “If you’ve seen one person on the spectrum, you’ve seen one person on the spectrum.” This is an appropriate way of describing autistic behavior patterns and related symptoms. No one test is 100 percent effective in determining whether or not your child has Autism or is a candidate for ABA therapy. A diagnosis of ASD is typically determined using a number of methods.

Identifying commonalities can be challenging since each child with Autism is unique. There are, however, commonly accepted patterns of autistic behavior. They include the following:

Social Skills

  • Failure to respond to his or her name
  • Poor eye contact
  • Selective hearing
  • Resists cuddling and holding
  • Unaware of others’ feelings
  • Prefers playing alone
  • Does not ask for help or make requests


  • Delayed speech and use of gestures
  • Regression in vocabulary
  • Speaking in an abnormal tone of voice
  • Struggling with two-way communication
  • Repeats words or phrases
  • Difficulty understanding questions or directions


  • Repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping
  • Development of specific routines with resistance to change
  • Fascination with the details of an object
  • Unusual sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Unusually high tolerance for pain
  • Lack of engagement in imaginative play
  • Odd or selective food preferences
  • Self-injurious behaviors, such as head banging

The Centers for Disease Control Guidelines

The following summary is based on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website (

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be difficult, since there is no specific medical test, such as a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. Typically, doctors view the child’s behavior and development to affirm a diagnosis.

ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age two, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered reliable.[1] However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with an ASD might not receive the timely help they need.

Diagnosing an ASD is a two-step process:

  1. Developmental Screening
  2. Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation

1. Developmental Screening

Developmental screening is a short test to assess whether your child is learning basic skills as expected, or if there are delays. During developmental screening, the doctor may ask the parent questions, or talk and play with the child during an exam to see how he/she learns, speaks, behaves and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign for concern.

All children should be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child visits with the doctor at:

  • 9 months
  • 18 months
  • 24 or 30 months
  • Additional screening may be recommended if a child is at high risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birth weight or other reasons

In addition, all children should be screened specifically for ASD during regular well-child visits with the doctor at:

  • 18 months
  • 24 months
  • Additional screening may be recommended if a child is at high risk for ASD (e.g., having a sister, brother or other family member with an ASD), or if behaviors sometimes associated with ASD are present

If the doctor identifies any signs of a problem, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation is needed.

2. Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation

The second step of diagnosis is a comprehensive evaluation. This thorough review may include observing the child’s behavior and development and interviewing the parents. It may also include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing and other medical testing.

In some cases, the primary care doctor might choose to refer the child and family to a specialist for further assessment and diagnosis. Specialists who can do this type of evaluation include:

  • Developmental pediatricians (doctors who have special training in child development and children with special needs)
  • Child neurologists (doctors who work on the brain, spine and nerves)
  • Child psychologists or psychiatrists (doctors who know about the human mind)

If your child receives a diagnosis of an ASD, the Butterfly Effects team will work closely with you to ensure he/she gets appropriate treatment based on his/her placement on the spectrum. We will also work closely with you to determine which behaviors you’d like us to focus on. We can then develop a treatment plan to specifically address your concerns. Learn more

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