37 answers

How Do You Determine If a Child Has Autism

I currently have a 3 1/2 year old and sometimes I really question if he has autism. I have asked the doctor and they said to "wait and see".

Some of his symptoms:
* He is kind of a loner. He does play with his younger brother but in many cases he would rather play alone.
* When he is in trouble he laughs and smiles
* He refuses to learn to draw shapes, he only wants to scribble
* often times we find him staring off into space

He is really smart, he knows shapes, colors, and where certain places, and he associates buildings with people (like daddy's work, he knows what the logo is and when he sees it even on tv he says,"that's my daddy's work".)

I know its important to be aware of autism, my cousin is autistic. I want to make sure I can help him develop to the best of my abilities.

So can I have some advice..could his symptoms be a sign of autism? I would rather be aware of it then just pass it off and not help him in every way possible. PLEASE HELP!

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

If those are his only "symptoms" then he sounds like a normal 3 1/2 yr old.
if you are really worried take him and have him evaluated.

2 moms found this helpful

Individually none of those symptoms means autism. I don't know about the combination. My daughter who is 4 1/2 still doesn't like to draw shapes.
The dr should have a CHAT screening form for autism. Maybe you can find one similar for parent screening.
Many school systems will have childfind screenings to identify kids who need additional help (autism, speech, etc) and this should be for kids 3 and over. look into services or help for specific needs- he may not need autism treatment but other symptoms may be helpful.

More Answers

I am responding in part to some of the posts below. Before I say anything else, though, I want to be very clear that I respect the experiences of every single person who has posted. My experience, and my son's experiences, haven't necessarily reflected those described below. That doesn't make your experience any less valid. But mine may be relevant as well.

Okay. My son has some Asperger's symptoms, but not enough to qualify for a diagnosis. It's like he's got one foot in the Asperger's spectrum and one foot out of it. And (again, this is just our experience), our encounters with the whole diagnostic apparatus have been a really mixed bag. Toward the end of Diagnosis Land, we were fortunate enough to encounter one doctor who I felt really listened to me and really paid attention to my son. However, we also encountered people who were unprofessional, insensitive, or simply well-intentioned-yet-wrong along the way.

Compared to Early Intervention and special ed, my son did MUCH better in a Montessori classroom where the teacher just said, straight up, "He's gifted and he's sensitive. Those are GOOD qualities. We'll just work on some coping skills over the year." After two years of Montessori, my son went from being deathly afraid of other children, water, wind, and sand, to being afraid of ... none of the above. He has fantastic friendships. He's absolutely loves the beach. There are a few vestigial issues (handwriting not great, bit of a drama queen during hairwashes and sunscreen application), but SO WHAT?

What I personally believe is this: Asperger's is real, but there are also cases where it's over-diagnosed. And overall, it's over-pathologized up the wazoo. I mean, Albert Einstein, who didn't speak until he was 4, would have almost certainly been diagnosed as somewhere on the spectrum. But is that what we need, to be pathologizing the next generation of Einsteins??? I don't deny that people with Asperger's and mild autism are different and often need help coping, but I'm not comfortable with the way people react when a child is labeled with a big, bad "Syndrome." I prefer my own term for it: Rocket Scientist Personality Type.

So, here's what I recommend. Get every evaluation you reasonably can. Be open to any number of possibilities. But if what people say doesn't reflect what you see in your son, don't be too quick to defer to their authority. Not everyone gets it right, and you, as the parent, are the only person in a position to say "This just isn't clicking for me. I think we need to keep looking." I recommend a book called Raising Blaise by Debra Ginsberg, a memoir that says a lot of what I'm trying to say, but much, much, much more beautifully.

Best wishes,


5 moms found this helpful

As a mom of an autistic child, you know when your gut starts bugging you that something might not be quite right. My prayers are with you that your child is NOT autistic, but NEVER accept an answer from a pediatrician of "wait and see", especially when it comes to autism. The earlier you get intervention, the better the outcome later in life. If you sense something may not be right, my advice to you is to demand a referral (if needed) from your doc and get him into a child psychologist for an evalutation. It's better to know now vs. later. Good luck!!

4 moms found this helpful

He sounds like a very normal 3 year old! He laughs and smiles when he's in trouble? I laugh whenever I get nervous, maybe he is the same way. Most 3 year olds do not play with others, 3 yrs is more of an independant stage when it comes to playing. 3 years old is pretty young for sitting down drawing shapes...he's probably just really learning how to hold a crayon good. Staring off into space is also known as daydreaming. Please do not lable your child. If there are other "symptoms" get another opinion but trying to get people to diagnos him on a mom's website will just add to your confusion as none of us know your child.

4 moms found this helpful

If you're only going by those few descriptors then I feel confident that your son does not have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are many, many signs and symptoms and you would have noticed them from a very, very early age and would have had continued concerns throughout his entire life. There would be global developmental delays, social delays, problems with eye contact, physical and verbal stimming, likely additional disorders associated with Autism such as Sensory Processing Disorder, gastric disorders and poor gut health, anxiety disorder, sleep disturbances, and so much more. These issues would be chronic and he would not grow out of them. They rely heavily on routines and schedules. It's extremely difficult to parent a child with ASD. It's not just a passing, "Hmmm, I wonder if my child has ASD?"

This link is from the CDC/Center for Disease Control and they have a pretty comprehensive layman's list of signs and symptoms to look out for.


There's much more on that link but here's the bulleted list they have:

A person with an ASD might:

Not respond to their name by 12 months of age
Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
Not play "pretend" games (pretend to "feed" a doll) by 18 months
Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
Have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
Have delayed speech and language skills
Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
Give unrelated answers to questions
Get upset by minor changes
Have obsessive interests
Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Social Skills

Photo: boySocial issues are one of the most common symptoms in all of the types of ASD. People with an ASD do not have just social “difficulties” like shyness. The social issues they have cause serious problems in everyday life.

Examples of social issues related to ASDs:

Does not respond to name by 12 months of age
Avoids eye-contact
Prefers to play alone
Does not share interests with others
Only interacts to achieve a desired goal
Has flat or inappropriate facial expressions
Does not understand personal space boundaries
Avoids or resists physical contact
Is not comforted by others during distress
Has trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about own feelings


Each person with an ASD has different communication skills. Some people can speak well. Others can’t speak at all or only very little. About 40% of children with an ASD do not talk at all. About 25%–30% of children with an ASD have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them.1 Others might speak, but not until later in childhood.

Examples of communication issues related to ASDs:

Delayed speech and language skills
Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
Reverses pronouns (e.g., says “me” instead of “I”)
Gives unrelated answers to questions
Does not point or respond to pointing
Uses few or no gestures (e.g., does not wave goodbye)
Talks in a flat, robot-like, or sing-song voice
Does not pretend in play (e.g., does not pretend to “feed” a doll)
Does not understand jokes, sarcasm, or teasing

Unusual Interests and Behaviors

Many people with an ASD have unusual interest or behaviors.

Examples of unusual interests and behaviors related to ASDs:

Lines up toys or other objects
Plays with toys the same way every time
Likes parts of objects (e.g., wheels)
Is very organized
Gets upset by minor changes
Has obsessive interests
Has to follow certain routines
Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles

Other Symptoms

Some people with an ASD have other symptoms. These might include:

Hyperactivity (very active)
Impulsivity (acting without thinking)
Short attention span
Causing self injury
Temper tantrums
Unusual eating and sleeping habits
Unusual mood or emotional reactions
Lack of fear or more fear than expected
Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

3 moms found this helpful

I'm appalled at and offended Mommy B's answer and cavalier attitude. Especially since she has asked an autism question herself. Mommy B how can you still ask "what would you do differently" when you have already been told, several times, by moms w/ autistic kids, answering your autism question, that early diagnoses and intervention is needed. How can you think that there's a magic age a child would be "old enough" or "too young" to be diagnosed?

Autism is real. And the sooner the child is diagnosed the better. It's amazing what early intervention can do for a child on the spectrum. The "wait and see attitude" is detrimental to the child needing help/services.

My son had very poor gross motor function as a baby. He didn't crawl, didn't sit up. My pediatrician recommended physical therapy at 18 months through the First 5 program here in CA. For a year she worked w/ my son and she noticed "odd" behaviors, that I as a first time mom, I didn't recognize. We had my son evaluated and he was on the spectrum with sensory processing disorder. She advocated for me to get OT, speech therapy, and sensory processing therapy through the regional center in my area. While the whole time my pediatrician said my son was fine. My pediatrician dismissed my concerns that my son was autistic - simply because he looked her in eyes when she called his name, SERIOUSLY!!?? She spent 15 minutes with him and dismissed my concerns. But his therapist spent several hours a week with him for a year and thank God - knew better!

Anyhow - my son is 4 1/2 years old now. He's received 2 1/2 years of therapy and has attended special ed pre-school through our school district.

When he was was diagnosed he was terrified of social situations, of any person approaching him or looking at him. He screamed and cried even when the therapist came to our home - the entire year he did this even though he knew her. He didn't like to touch anything, everything was too sensitive for him. He didn't like loud sounds. He would line up his toys and stare at them. He would repeat phrases over and over. Yet - he would look you in the eye, he spoke well, he was happy.

Now - through early intervention, he is able to touch sand, able to get his hands dirty, able to tolerate loud noises (still dislikes the air dryers in bathrooms), loves to socialize, and no longer lines things up like he did.

He still has gross motor issues, fine motor issues, is a very picky eater, is repulsed by certain smells, and has to ALWAYS wear socks, he can not be bare foot or he freaks out. He transitions from one place or activity to another without incident now too.

I can't image how he would be now without the early intervention. He still has issues, but me being aware of them and us working on them will help him learn how to cope.

So to those of you who say "wait and see" or to Mommy B who doesn't believe in putting a label on "it" or it's just a weird quirk - you should be ashamed of yourself!!! Autism spectrum disorder is REAL.

As a mom - you KNOW in your gut when something isn't right. You should advocate for your child, especially when it's a spectrum disorder. Otherwise you would waste valuable time in helping your child if they need it.

Do you what you need to do to get the answer - go through the county to get your child assessed. In California the services for at home & OT therapy end at 3 years old and then they are passed to the school system. At the advice of others posting look into services in your area.

Blessings to you T. A. {{HUGS}}

My son also stared into space. He was having petite-mal seizures. NOT FROM LACK of sleep as someone mentioned below. His little brain was getting overwhelmed at all the sensory input around him and he would just shut off for a few seconds. We had him tested w/ an MRI and had his brain waves tested, forgot what this test is called. Had to monitor him for a week, was awful. But the neurologist said that the brain looked good and not to be concerned. The looking out into space still happens, but not as frequent as it used to and it doesn't last as long as it use to.

3 moms found this helpful

I understand that you are concerned, especially with a relative who IS autistic. But the truth is, your son isn't displaying any unusual behavior for a three year old. Just because he smiles and laughs when he's in trouble (not unusual behavior, believe me!) and refuses to draw what you want him to draw (also not unusual, especially for the age) doesn't mean that he has underlying mental or medical issues. It's important, as a parent, to be able to take a deep breath and relax about your child's issues. Even if there's something there. What would you do differently with an official label? You would continue to work with him, teaching and guiding him in social situations, disciplining him to teach boundaries, and getting him whatever additional help he needs (speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc.).

3 moms found this helpful

If those are his only "symptoms" then he sounds like a normal 3 1/2 yr old.
if you are really worried take him and have him evaluated.

2 moms found this helpful

Call your local health department and ask them if they do any evaluations. We had our 4 year old evaluated and it showed he probably has Sensory Integration Disorder or Sensory Processing Disorder. It was very easy and they did it by giving his preschool teachers and us questionnaires.

Otherwise contact a school psychologist and ask them about observation and evaluations.

2 moms found this helpful

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