Signs Of Autism In 2-Year-Old Children: What To Look For

By Nicole Beasley

Updated October 03, 2019

Reviewer Melinda Santa

As a parent, you want to watch your child grow and develop into a healthy and productive child, teen, then adult. But sometimes parents begin to notice around the age of one or two that their child is not developing normally. There can be many different reasons for developmental delays, including simple disinterest in answering questions or performing on cue. Yet for some children, developmental delays are a sign of a much more serious condition. Learn more about the signs of autism in 2-year-old children, how to get a diagnosis, and interventions and treatment that can help.

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What Is Autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that it can range from mild to severe, and it can affect any child of any background, race, or age group. Autism is characterized by social, cognitive, and communicative impairments, as well as repetitive behaviors. There can be many different reasons for a toddler to be behind developmentally, so it is important to know the signs of autism and seek out professional help to determine an accurate diagnosis.

Signs Of Autism In 2-Year-Old Children

There are a lot of signs that you might notice that could indicate your child is on the autism spectrum. It is important to note that these signs should be things that occur frequently or consistently. For example, if your child only occasionally fails to respond to their name, they may simply be hyperfocused on what they are doing and not interested in responding to their name. On the other hand, if your child rarely responds to their name, this is a sign of autism.

According to the National Autism Association, some of the signs of autism in 2-year-old children include:

  • Not responding to their name or appearing deaf
  • Not pointing at objects they want
  • Not showing interest, even when you know they like the object or activity
  • Not playing "imaginary" or "pretend" games
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Wanting to spend most of their time alone
  • Difficulty understanding or displaying an understanding of feelings (of self or others)
  • Not speaking or delayed speech
  • Repeating words or phrases over and over again
  • Giving unrelated answers to questions asked of them
  • Easily upset by minor changes in routine or environment
  • Obsesses over interests
  • Frequently flaps their hands, rocks their body, or spinning in circles
  • Overreacting or underreacting to stimuli
  • Low to no social skills with family or other children
  • Avoiding physical contact
  • No safety or danger awareness
  • Uses reverse pronouns ("you" instead of "I")
  • Have unusual interests or behaviors
  • Have extreme anxiety or certain phobias
  • Lines up toys or other objects obsessively
  • Doesn't change the way they play with the same toys
  • Become obsessed with parts of objects (such as wheels on a car)

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In addition to these early warning signs of autism in 2-year-old children, there are some other symptoms to watch for. You may want to seek help for your child if they:

  • Are hyperactive
  • Are impulsive
  • Have a short attention span
  • Are aggressive
  • Cause self-harm
  • Have frequent meltdowns
  • Have unusual eating or sleeping habits
  • Have unusual mood changes or emotional reactions
  • Have either a lack of fear or too much fear

Of course, these secondary symptoms can be signs of many other disorders and mental health concerns, especially as children get older. However, these symptoms, combined with any of the signs mentioned previously, is a clear indication that something is wrong. You should immediately seek professional help for diagnosis and treatment as soon as you notice that something is not right with your child.

Getting A Diagnosis

All children should have a developmental screening at specified ages while they're well-child visits with the pediatrician. Developmental screening should be done at nine months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months. Developmental screening is a short test to determine if your child is on target with social, motor, and communication skills. Your pediatrician may have you play with your child or interact with them in a specific way to determine their developmental stage.

If there are problems with the developmental screening, or if you have noticed any of the signs and symptoms already discussed, it is important to discuss further screening and testing with your doctor. Testing for autism is a two-stage process.

The first stage is a test called the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. This is a two-part parent assessment that parents will fill out and have examined by a doctor or other professional. If the assessment shows that the child has many of the markers or symptoms of the autism spectrum, your child will move on to the second stage of testing.

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In the second stage, your child will go through a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. This may include hearing tests, vision tests, genetic and neurological testing, and other medical testing. The professionals will also closely evaluate your child's behavior during certain situations and interactions, as well as interviewing you to determine other symptoms that they may not be seeing in their brief visits with your child.

Any pediatrician can do developmental screening, as can the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. The comprehensive diagnostic evaluation can be performed by developmental pediatricians who have specialization in developmental disorders, child neurologists, child psychologists, or child psychiatrists. You may want to have a team of two or more of these professionals helping you with your child's case.

Why You Should Watch For Signs

If you start seeing any signs of developmental delays with your child, it is important to start watching for signs of autism in 2-year-old children early and frequently. The sooner your child is diagnosed with autism, the sooner treatment can begin, and the more effective treatment will be.

According to Autism Speaks, a doctor established an early intervention program for children 18 to 24 months in 2009 called the Early Start Denver Model. This early intervention program had very promising results. They found that most children in the program had an increased IQ, improved language ability, and improved social skills.

Such treatments are becoming more common, and new treatments and therapies are being researched every year. Your child has the best chance of a normal childhood and a normal life if they are diagnosed and treated for autism as early as possible. For this reason, it is important not to ignore the signs and symptoms of autism or other behavioral problems. As soon as you notice that there might be a problem, begin taking notes of their behavior and developmental milestones so that you can see the signs for what they are and take action if appropriate.

What To Do Next

If you recognize some of the symptoms and signs of autism in 2-year-old children in your child, you must take action. If you aren't sure if your child is displaying these symptoms or signs, or if you think there might be another underlying problem, it can be helpful to talk to a therapist or psychologist for more information.

A psychologist can help you in many ways. First, they can go over the checklist with you to help you determine if you should have your child tested for autism. Second, they can discuss with you your fears and concerns, and help you cope with the fact that you may have a special needs child. Third, professional psychologists and therapists can help steer you toward resources and help you get the help you need for yourself and your child.

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It is also very important that you take care of your own needs and concerns during this time. As the parent of a developmentally challenged child, whatever the cause, you have a very stressful job. If you work outside the home in addition to caring for your child, this can add to your stress. If you do not work, financial stress may be an issue. You must take care of yourself, both physically and mentally, so that you can care for your child.

This is another way that a psychologist or therapist can help you. These professionals can help you by giving you the support you need from someone who is utterly familiar with autism and other developmental and behavioral disorders. These professionals are best able to help you come to terms with your child's diagnosis after it is made, and they can also help you cope as your child grows, and developmental delays become more pronounced.

With BetterHelp, talking to a licensed therapist or psychologist is easy and convenient. BetterHelp offers online counseling with licensed professionals on your time. You can contact these therapists at any time of the day or night, by phone, text, online chat, or video call. With all of the convenient methods and times that you can talk to a therapist, there is really no need to put off that interaction. If you are noticing signs of autism in 2-year-old children in your child, contact BetterHelp today for more guidance.


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