Updated: Apr 26

Mother holding child on the beachMother holding child on the beach

There’s a saying in the autism community: "When you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met...one child with autism." Autism presents differently in every person, so it can be difficult to spot these five signs that a child might have autism. As you look over this list, keep in mind that most children, typically developing or not, will show some of these signs. If the behavior seems to happen more frequently, intensely or last longer than in other children, that’s when it becomes concerning. Any behavior interfering with your child’s daily functioning, it’s always worth mentioning to your child’s doctor.

Social Difficulties

Autism is primarily a social disorder. This means kids with autism struggle with social behavior. That struggle, to the extreme that it interferes with daily life, is the biggest sign of autism. This can mean the stereotypical not making eye contact, being resistant to physical displays of affection, and always playing alone, never with others. The opposite extreme can also be true for kids with autism. Kids who seem to have no awareness of boundaries, who are always seeking out physical comfort, and constantly insert themselves in others’ games with little awareness of socially acceptable ways to do so may also be showing signs of autism. It's not unusual for kids to be more shy or outgoing than expected, but these behaviors exhibited to an extreme may be a sign of autism, and should be tracked.

Two boys playing with water toys outsideTwo boys playing with water toys outside

Communication Difficulties

Since autism is primarily a social disorder, communication can also be affected. It’s not uncommon for kids to begin speaking later than average, but when looking for signs of autism, it’s not producing the actual words that can be concerning. Sometimes it can also be a sign of autism when kids don't attempt to communicate outside of speech, such as not understanding that they can point to show you something interesting, or to show you what they want. Overall, kids tend to understand speech far beyond what they can speak, so if your child doesn’t respond to her or his name, or doesn’t seem to understand and follow instructions, that can also be concerning. If your child has no problem forming words but those words are just repeated phrases heard elsewhere (such as constantly quoting their favorite television show in response to everything), that is also a sign of a communication struggle that should be tracked. Remember, kids develop at different rates and communication disorders can present without autism.

Boy screaming into microphoneBoy screaming into microphone

Sensory Avoiding Behavior

Does your child hate the sensation of tags in the back of his clothing? Scream like she’s being eaten by a pack of hungry lions if peanut butter ends up on her finger? Refuse to let anything touch his head, whether it’s a hat, water from the sprinkler or a stylist’s shears? Some kids are totally overwhelmed by the sensory input they receive from the outside world, and will do anything to avoid it. That tag in the back of the shirt, which might be just a mild annoyance to you and me, feels like it's being painfully dragged across the neck of a kid who is overwhelmed by sensory input. Naturally, this child will do anything he can to avoid this, whether that’s fussing and pulling at his shirt all day, or categorically refusing to wear shirts with tags. Sensory avoiding behavior doesn’t absolutely mean your child has autism. Many kids, typically developing or otherwise, find certain sensory inputs to be overwhelming. However, since many kids with autism also struggle with sensory processing, if you notice your child displaying sensory avoidance behavior it could be a sign you should track.

Sensory Seeking Behavior

The flip side is sensory seeking behavior. Autistic kids try to seek out sensory experiences like spinning, flapping their hands, and banging their heads on walls or floors as an attempt to regulate their systems. Instead of finding sensory inputs to be overwhelming, these kids find it difficult to orient themselves without providing their own sensory experience. In fact, it's not uncommon to see both sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behavior in kids with autism. For example, some kids may find tags in their shirts to be unbearable, but still need extra movement to orient their bodies in a new space. Like sensory avoiding behavior, sensory seeking behavior doesn’t necessarily mean your child has autism. It's just something parents might notice is interfering with their child’s daily functioning, and is therefore worth tracking and mentioning to your pediatrician.

Boy blowing bubblesBoy blowing bubbles

Rigid Thinking

Change is very difficult for kids with autism. A small deviation from routine can be enough to send a kid with autism into a tailspin for days. Kids with autism can also be resistant to exploring interests outside of their own interests. It could be a sign of autism if they choose to focus on something such as trains or weather patterns to the exclusion of all else. Change in routine can be difficult for lots of kids, with or without autism. If your child's struggles feel world-ending and she or he will tear apart everything in arm's reach to avoid change, it's a concern you might want to track.

Girl playing with toysGirl playing with toys

Parents know their child best, and are most likely to spot the early signs of autism. If you have concerns about your child (whether they show these signs or none of them), contact your child’s doctor to discuss them in detail. Together you can create a plan to provide whatever support your child may need.

Mother and son with Independence Day sunglassesMother and son with Independence Day sunglasses

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Does your child have autism symptoms and behaviors you need to track? Get a free mytaptrack® Parent Packet to help: www.mytaptrack.com/trial

Updated: Apr 26

When your child first receives a diagnosis of autism it can be overwhelming. It feels like there is so much to do and so many questions. What can I do to help my child? What therapies will best help him? Does she need medication? What do I need to know? Finding answers can be challenging. Here are five places to find info on autism.

Mother and son touching nosesMother and son touching noses

Pediatrician, specialist or therapist

By far, the best place to go for information on autism is your child’s medical provider or specialist. A general practitioner should be able to direct you to resources or refer you to a specialist provider. If your child already sees a specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician, that person should have a wealth of information available. They see special needs children all day, every day, and should be able to answer any questions you have. If they can’t, they’ll be able to help you find the answer.

Child's hand playing with toysChild's hand playing with toys

Does your child see a speech therapist, or receive special education services? Other members of your child’s team, outside of your child’s medical provider, can also be a good place to go for info on autism; however, they might not be able to give much information beyond their area of expertise. A speech therapist might only have information about communication difficulties on the autism spectrum, and a special education teacher will likely only be able to speak about educational impact. Like your child’s medical provider, they will be able to help you find the information you need if they don’t know the answers themselves.

Major children’s hospitals

Major children’s hospitals are also a good place to find information on autism. Many of them offer classes and seminars for parents of children with autism, or at the very least, have information about such events in the community. You can also use their websites as a good starting point for online research about the autism spectrum. The websites might offer information about local resources, or even just info about autism in general.

Doctor and parent meeting about childDoctor and parent meeting about child

Other parents

It’s easy to feel very alone when you first learn: my child has autism. As you get your child set up with therapy appointments, or special education services, you will meet many other parents who also have a child with autism. These parents can be a wealth of information on autism and parenting a child with autism because they are living it, just like you. You might meet in the waiting room of your child’s occupational therapist, or at a class party, or a social media group. However you meet, it's important to keep in mind that their child is not your child, and their experience while informative might not be an exact match for your experience. The most useful types of info about autism you might receive from other parents would include the names of doctors and therapists they’ve found to be particularly good, the inside scoop on your local school district, and helpful books on autism symptoms.

Mother and son at Holi Festival of ColorsMother and son at Holi Festival of Colors

Local library

Speaking of books, there are tons of books with great information on autism and parenting an autistic child. There are even more books about how to address your child’s specific needs, such as communication or managing emotions. These books can be very useful sources of info about autism signs, but how do you know which books are really worth purchasing and adding to your collection? Your local library will likely have many of these books available. Use their resources to determine which ones you only want to read once before returning to the library, and others you may find so valuable you want to add them to your home library. Many libraries also have book-sharing programs with other libraries. If there’s a book you are looking for that your library doesn’t have, there’s a good chance your librarian can help you get it.

Boy reading book in libraryBoy reading book in library

The Internet

The Internet has a vast array of information on just about everything, and the autism spectrum is no exception. Be mindful about the sources you use to find info on autism, as you would with anything else you source on the Internet. There are plenty of excellent websites that will give you fantastic information. Other websites have great information but have their own biases you should take into consideration. For example, they might not present certain types of autism research if it doesn't support their personal stance on controversial issues. Incidentally, the Internet is also a great place to find other parents of autistic children. Facebook has a number of groups focused in local areas dedicated to parenting children with special needs including.

Mother and two children looking at tablet computerMother and two children looking at tablet computer

Autism can be a scary diagnosis because so much is unknown. Fortunately, lots of info on autism does exist, if you know where to look. This information can be very valuable on your journey of helping your autistic child. Just remember, once you begin sourcing information, it’s always a good idea to check in with your child’s medical provider before changing care plans, or if you have questions about information you've found on your own. If you don’t agree with your child’s doctor, you can always get a second opinion!

Mother and daughter running down sidewalkMother and daughter running down sidewalk

Updated: Apr 26

Parenting is a hard job. Parenting autistic kids isn’t necessarily harder...but it’s a different kind of hard. Here are 7 tips for parenting autistic kids.

Boy holding autumn leafBoy holding autumn leaf

Be explicit

One of the hardest things for me to realize when parenting an autistic child is that I can’t expect my son to just pick up on social cues and learn things by watching and mimicking, the way my typically developing daughters do. The very nature of autism means my son doesn’t process social cues the same way I do, and learning how to teach him to interact with the world has been one of my biggest parenting challenges. He can’t just be told what to do, he needs to be given step-by-step directions, broken down into the smallest chunks possible. It’s not always enough to say, "Take your plate into the kitchen." Sometimes it needs to be, "Pick up your plate, hold onto it with both hands, take it into the kitchen and set it on the counter."

Child's hand reaching for strawberries on kitchen counterChild's hand reaching for strawberries on kitchen counter

Be patient

When parenting autistic kids being patient is about more than ensuring extra time for putting on shoes or whatever task is at hand, although that’s important, too. What's much more important is remembering skills aren’t gained overnight. This is true of all kids, but it’s hard to think about when you’ve been paying for therapy the last six months and not seeing immediate progress. Yes, you should be seeing some progress, but it might not happen as quickly as you’d like. Ask questions, do whatever you can to facilitate that progress, but don’t be surprised if your child isn’t developing precisely the way you expected.

Child playing with Legos Child playing with Legos

Pace yourself

In that same vein, when parenting autistic kids it’s important to keep the end goal in mind. What do I want for my son? I want him to be a happy, healthy, productive member of society. Independence is a big goal for him, and I believe it to be an achievable one. But that goal is a long way off. Sometimes it’s okay to slow down a little. Occasionally (okay, often), my son’s appointments are very inconvenient, and come at a cost to the rest of the family. Sometimes we make the decision that cost is acceptable, because rescheduling would create even more inconvenience, or because it will result in a decision affecting how we move forward with his care. Other times, we decide that canceling an appointment for one week is unlikely to affect the goal of independence. We pace ourselves, instead of focusing everything we have on my son's care, so we don’t run out of steam long before he’s an independent adult.

Remember your autistic kid is still a kid

When parenting an autistic child, sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in what’s different about my son, I forget he’s still just a kid. Yes, he has his differences, but he has a lot in common with other kids. He loves to pester his sisters, he can’t wait for his birthday (because presents! And cake!), and he still snuggles with his stuffed Mickey Mouse at night. Between all the various doctor and therapy appointments, endless back-and-forths with the school, and general management of everything related to his autism diagnosis, it can be hard to take a step back and focus on this pretty awesome kid, with or without the autism.

Child in fireman costume meeting real firefightersChild in fireman costume meeting real firefighters

Do what works for your kid

There’s a saying floating around about kids with autism: "When you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met...one kid with autism." Like all kids, autistic kids have different needs and respond better (or worse!) to different techniques. For example, a lot of kids who struggle with noise do really well with noise-canceling headphones. Blocking out extraneous noise allows them to put all their attention on the task at hand. My son is one of those kids who are very easily distracted by background noise. I can’t even tell you how many times noise-canceling headphones have been suggested. My son also cannot tolerate anything being put on his head — not unless it’s something he really wants to try, and even then, I call it good if it stays on for two minutes. Those giant noise-cancelling headphones? Yeah, he has no desire to put those on his head. I’m glad those work well for some kids, and I’m generally grateful for the suggestion, but I know it won’t work for my kid, and you know what? That’s okay.

Child looking through handheld toy telescopeChild looking through handheld toy telescope

Don’t be afraid to course-correct

Autistic kids are still kids, and they grow and change every day. Like all kids, when you think you’ve finally settled into that sweet spot of everything working perfectly...they go and change on you, or life just changes on you. Speech was always our biggest concern — the whole reason we started down the developmental delays path. As he entered school, my son's lack of fine motor skills became a bigger problem, and suddenly, occupational therapy became much more important than speech. I have no doubt as time goes on and other concerns come up, occupational therapy will take a backseat, too. We’ll just keep changing as my son's needs change.

Take care of you

It feels so trite to drag out the oxygen mask example, but people use it because it’s true. You can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of you, and this is especially true when parenting autistic kids. It’s so much harder to be explicit and patient and remember to pace yourself when you haven’t had a minute of peace in the last week. Whether you need to tell everybody to stay in bed an extra five minutes so you can finish your coffee in peace, or not vacuum the floor for a month so you have a few extra minutes to enjoy a hobby, do what is necessary to take care of you.

Child walking on lake pierChild walking on lake pier