According to the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism is a broad term that describes a range of conditions that affect a child’s social, behavioral, and communication skills. While the symptoms of autism can vary widely, early diagnosis and therapy are crucial in helping children with autism reach their full potential.


As a parent, it can be challenging to distinguish normal toddler behavior from symptoms of autism. Many typical toddler behaviors are similar in children with and without autism. However, there are specific behaviors and developmental milestones that are delayed in children with autism. This article aims to explore the developmental differences between typical toddler behavior and symptoms of autism, equipping parents to better detect early warning signs of autism.


Why are developmental milestones important?

Developmental milestones are important because they provide a guideline for tracking a child’s progress in terms of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Delays in achieving developmental milestones can be an early warning sign of autism or other developmental disorders. It is essential for parents to familiarize themselves with the typical timeline for each developmental milestone so that any delays can be quickly identified. Early detection and intervention are key to helping children with autism reach their full potential.

What are the differences between typical toddler behavior and symptoms of autism?

Typical toddler behavior may include delayed speech development, sensory issues, and difficulty transitioning from one activity to another. Children with autism often demonstrate similar behaviors but to a much more pronounced degree. They may demonstrate extreme difficulty in developing speech and language skills, an inability to make eye contact or respond to their name when called, repetitive behaviors such as rocking or spinning objects, and hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to various sensations. 


Additionally, children with autism often show signs of impaired social interaction and communication. These can manifest as difficulty making friends, engaging in conversations, or understanding social cues.


In conclusion, it is important for parents to be aware of the typical timeline for milestones and to take note of any developmental delays or difficulties their child may be having. While these behaviors may be indicative of a wide range of conditions, they could also be warning signs of autism. 


If you have concerns or have noticed any delays in your child’s development, it is important to consult with your pediatrician or a qualified professional for further evaluation. Early diagnosis and intervention can make a world of difference for children with autism.

Normal Toddler behavior versus autism

Typical Child’s Development

Many children develop and grow rapidly during the first few years of life. They learn new skills and abilities through exploration and interaction with their environment. The following four categories are the most critical areas of toddler development: speech, social communication, play, and motor skills.


Speech development begins with cooing and babbling in the first few months of life. By six months, a baby can recognize familiar voices and can differentiate between different sounds. At around nine months, infants can utter simple words like “mama” and “dada” and understand simple commands. They start putting two or more words together at the age of 2, and their speech becomes more complex as they grow older.


Social interaction is another critical aspect of early childhood development. Young children need interactions with their parents, siblings, and peers to develop their social skills. They learn how to empathize and understand others’ emotions through play and socialization. As early as 18 months, toddlers start to play with other children and show interest in making friends. They can also recognize familiar faces and respond to social cues, such as smiling or waving.


Play is an essential aspect of toddler development that helps them learn new things, develop their cognitive and creative abilities, and improve their social skills. Toddlers love to play with toys, explore their surroundings, and engage in imaginative play. They may become increasingly interested in certain objects or themes, such as toy cars or animals.


Motor skills development is also a key area of toddler behavior. They learn how to sit, crawl, walk, run, jump, and climb during their first few years of life. They use their motor skills in everyday activities like playing with toys, dressing up, and eating.


Overall, typical toddler development involves fast and exciting changes. Toddlers reach various milestones at different stages during this period, and the range of development is vast. Many children develop faster or slower than their peers, and it is essential not to compare a child’s development with that of others. Instead, parents should focus on their child’s progress and provide opportunities for growth and development.

Areas where children with autism spectrum disorder are delayed

While there’s a broad range of what’s considered typical toddler development, children with autism spectrum disorder often experience delays in certain areas of development. Some of these areas include:


  1. Speech development – As we’ve mentioned, children with autism can have difficulties developing speech. Communication may be difficult or delayed, and children may have trouble understanding language or showing interest in communicating with others.
  2. Social skills – Social interactions can be particularly challenging for children with autism. They may struggle to initiate social encounters, read facial expressions and gestures, or understand how to engage in conversations.
  3. Motor development- Children with autism may also experience delays in their motor development. Activities like walking, running, throwing, and kicking can take longer for children with autism to master than their peers. Of course, they may also struggle with fine motor skills in everyday activities like playing with toys, dressing up, and eating.
  4. Cognitive development – Children with autism may have difficulty understanding abstract concepts or problem-solving tasks. It can take longer for them to develop the same abilities as other children of the same age.

Early Signs of Autism

Although there are various symptoms of autism, there is a cluster of behaviors identified in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

  • Lack of eye contact

Children with autism may have difficulty making eye contact, avoiding eye contact, or have difficulty maintaining eye contact as usual.

  • Delayed speech or language development

Autism can cause difficulties in speech and language development. A child with autism might use fewer words or have trouble communicating or becoming verbose or repetitive in their speech. They may also have difficulty speaking in complete and complex sentences.

  • Difficulty with imaginative play

Toddlers with autism may not engage in imaginative play or mimicking activities that other children of their age enjoy. They may not engage in pretend play or find it difficult to pretend, fantasize, or engage with make-believe toys.

  • Repetitive movements

Repetitive behavior like flapping or rocking is also common in children with autism. They may repeat words or phrases, or repeatedly speckle items.

  • Difficulty with social interaction

Children with autism may have difficulty picking up social cues, initiating social interactions with others, or sharing toys or aspects of self.


The challenges that children with autism face can make it difficult for them to integrate socially, academically, or physically. They may need significant support to overcome these challenges, making early diagnosis and intervention crucial.


It’s important to note that children with autism may also exhibit some typical toddler behaviors, such as enjoying the company of other children, laughing, and playing with toys. Autism presents itself differently in every child, and recognizing the early warning signs early can be tricky.

behavioral challenges in children with autism

In addition to delays in a child’s development skills, children with autism spectrum disorder may also display challenging behaviors which can have an impact on their social functioning, learning, and daily living. These may include:

  1. Tantrums – Children with autism may experience intense temper tantrums or meltdowns when faced with changes in routine or difficult situations. They may respond to frustration with aggression, biting, or hitting.
  2. Inappropriate behavior – Children with autism may demonstrate inappropriate behaviors like public displays of affection, verbal outbursts, and refusal to follow instructions.
  3. Self-injury – Some children with autism may also exhibit self-injurious behaviors, such as head banging, biting themselves, and scratching.
  4. Hyperactivity – Autism can also cause hyperactivity in children that make it difficult to focus or engage in activities over longer periods of time.
  5. Sensory sensitivities – Children with autism may be highly sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, certain textures, tastes, and smells. This can make it difficult for them to participate and engage in activities with other children.
  6. social communication- Children with autism may find it difficult to interact with peers and adults. They often have difficulty understanding body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. They may also find it difficult to initiate conversations with other children of the same age.

How ABA therapy helps children with autism

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a widely accepted and effective method of intervention for children with autism. ABA therapists use positive reinforcement techniques to help children learn how to communicate effectively, interact with others, and engage in activities that they may otherwise find difficult or impossible. It can also help them develop problem-solving skills, improve their behavior, and enhance their quality of life.


ABA therapy is tailored to an individual’s specific needs and goals, and can take place in a variety of settings including the home, school, or clinic. It also provides an opportunity for family involvement by teaching parents how to work with their child to establish positive behaviors. 


With early identification, intervention, and ongoing support, children with autism can grow to reach their full potential. ABA therapy is an important part of that journey. By working with a therapist to identify positive behaviors and rewarding them for those behaviors, children with autism can learn new skills and be successful in the classroom, at home, and in their community.  As a result, they can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.


Having a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be overwhelming; however, early intervention is essential in providing the best possible outcome for them and their families. There are many resources available to support children and parents living with autism, including therapies and social programs to help children reach their full potential. With proper care and guidance, all children can thrive in life no matter where they fall on the autism spectrum.


By understanding what to look for and getting an early diagnosis, parents can help their children with autism lead happy, fulfilling lives. If you have any further questions or concerns about your child’s development, please reach out to a medical professional. For more information on autism, and to start ABA therapy click here.



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