Autism awareness has finally picked up some speed, making it easier for parents, educators, and caregivers to spot some of the common symptoms. Lack of eye contact, speech delays, repetitive behaviors, and reluctance to engage in social interaction with others have been established as the most immediate warning signs that a child may have autism.
Since autism occurs on a spectrum and manifests differently in each child, it may be more difficult to spot the less common and less severe warning signs. Here are five less common symptoms that could indicate your child may have autism:
1. Walks on tip toes:
At around 24 months, infants learn to stand up, balance, and walk. Part of this learning process involves walking on the tiptoes to experiment with the body’s ability to move in different ways. However, if your toddler is still walking on their tip toes past the age of 24-36 months, this could be an early symptom of autism or sensory processing disorder. Children with autism can be sensitive to touch, and may walk on their toes to avoid uncomfortable contact between the ground and sensitive arch and heel areas of their feet (Williams, et al., 2012).
2. Arches back or screams when picked up:
Babies who arch their backs when picked up may have difficulty anticipating how their body should move in response to being picked up. Arching of the back is an innate natural response to being picked up, but after around 5 months, the infant begins to develop the ability to use muscle control to hold themselves in a more secure position. If an infant continues to arch their back after this milestone should have been met, this could indicate difficulty in predicting a caregiver’s intent to pick them up (Reddy, Markova, & Wallot, 2013), and could be an early sign of autism. Babies may also arch their backs away from a caregiver, scream, or resist cuddling if it creates an overwhelming sensory experience.
3. Chronic ear infections/covering ears:
Food allergies commonly occur in children with autism, and can cause inflammation blockage of the Eustachian tubes. These blockages can lead to frequent ear aches and ear infections. If your child is covering their ears or contracts ear infections easily, this could be a symptom of autism linked to food allergies. It’s also important to know that overuse of antibiotics can cause damage to the healthy bacteria that live in the digestive system. When these bacteria are destroyed, yeast overgrowth and digestive problems can occur. If your child is taking antibiotics, be sure to have them eat yogurt (if they’re not allergic to dairy products) or supplement with a probiotic.
4. Repeats words or phrases:
Echolalia is the repetition of speech heard through pieces of conversation, scripts from TV shows, movies, songs, or other forms of spoken language. It is often compared to the way a parrot talks, because speech often lacks meaning and intention. Children with autism may repeat questions that you ask or speak in gibberish that mimics the melody of conversations. This may be due to difficulties in language processing, and could indicate the presence of a speech delay or autism.
5. Excessive running, jumping, climbing, or pacing:
Children with autism often seek sensory stimulation by engaging in excessive and repetitive physical activity. If your child does not appear to have a general purpose associated with running, jumping, climbing, or pacing, this could be a sign that they have sensory processing difficulties related to autism.