People with Autism Spectrum Disorder have varying communication skills: They may be able to speak well, only speak a little bit, or not be able to speak at all. Children with ASD who do speak often use language in odd ways and have difficulty with back-and-forth conversation. For example, when asked a question, children may repeat the question instead of providing an answer. This is called echolalia. Additionally, they may talk at length about a topic of interest instead of having a back-and-forth conversation and may be oblivious to conversational cues. Children may also may have a hard time with interpreting gestures, body language, and tone of voice of others. They also sometimes do not know how to match their tone of voice or what they are saying to their own facial expressions. Specifically, children with ASD might show these signs:

  • Repeat words and phrases over and over
  • Use words that seem odd or out of place
  • Fail to, or are slow to, develop gestures (such as pointing or waving goodbye)
  • Reverse pronouns (“you” instead of “I”)
  • Speak with an unusual tone or rhythm
  • Provide unrelated answers to questions

Stereotyped and Other Unusual Behaviors

Many toddlers with ASD tend to have unusual behaviors and interests. They may use repetitive motions and actions and be obsessed with routine. Unfamiliarity, frustration or changes in patterns may lead to aggressive or tantrum behavior.

  • Spends time lining up toys or other objects in a certain way rather than playing with them
  • Is compulsive about the way toys and things are organized
  • Is easily upset by minor changes
  • Needs to follow certain routines
  • Has obsessive interests

Other Signs

  • Short Attention Span
  • Excessive Aggression
  • Unusual emotions and moods
  • Unusual sleeping and eating habits
  • Tantrum Behavior
  • Unusual responses to smell, sound, sight, taste, and touch


It is important to remember that signs of autism in toddlers may vary from child to child. Children with ASD, because they are on a spectrum, do not always show the same type or severity of symptoms. Additionally, children develop at their own pace and many typically developing children may even display behaviors attributed to children with ASD. Developmental milestones may be useful in monitoring a child’s social, emotional, and behavioral progress. If you notice that your child has multiple ASD-related symptoms, it would be best to have them screened and evaluated.

Next Steps

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