What Are Signs Of Autism In 2 Year Old?

Discover what are signs of autism in 2 year olds and learn about the importance of early intervention.

Alan Hollander
May 21, 2024

What Are Signs Of Autism In 2 Year Old?

Discover what are signs of autism in 2 year olds and learn about the importance of early intervention.

Signs of Autism in Toddlers

Recognizing the early signs of autism in toddlers can lead to timely intervention and support. The signs can vary in each child and can surface as early as 12 months to 16 months of age, as per Autism Speaks. Certain behaviors involving social interaction, communication patterns, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests may act as red flags for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in toddlers.

Communication Delays and Patterns

One of the significant signs of autism in a 2-year-old is communication delays or the absence of speech. Unusual speaking patterns, such as using a sing-song voice or robotic speech, can also be indicative. If a toddler doesn't respond to their name or shows an inappropriate or delayed response, it can be a potential sign of autism.

At this age, children are usually expanding their vocabulary, learning new words, and starting to combine words into short phrases. If a child at age 2 does not meet many of the communication milestones within their age range, it is recommended to visit an ASHA-certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist (SLP) for an assessment.

Lack of Social Response

Autism can also manifest as a lack of social response. Toddlers with autism may show little interest in playing near others and may lack pretend play abilities. They may avoid eye contact or fail to respond to other people's emotions.

Behavioral signs can also include rigid behavior and difficulty with transitions, repetitive motions such as hand-flapping, sensitivity to sensations, major sleep disturbances, and behavior problems like aggression and hyperactivity [3].

It's crucial to remember that these signs don't necessarily mean a child has autism, but they might be indicators. If you recognize these signs in a toddler, it's recommended to consult a healthcare professional or a specialist. Early intervention can have a significant impact on a child's development and quality of life.

Behavioral Indicators at Age 2

When considering 'what are signs of autism in 2 year old?', behavioral indicators play a significant role. These indicators often include repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivities, and sleep disturbances.

Repetitive Behaviors

Repetitive behaviors, also known as repetitive and restricted behaviors (RRBs), are common in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These behaviors are often more severe in toddlers with ASD compared to their counterparts who are developing typically or have other disorders [4].

RRBs can manifest in a variety of ways, including body movements like flicking fingers in front of one’s eyes, rocking back and forth, moving objects repetitively, or spinning in circles. Some of these behaviors could potentially be harmful to the child.

In some cases, motor repetitions resembling those observed in autistic individuals could be seen in children during early childhood. However, these typically disappear by age 4-6, which is one reason why autism can be challenging to diagnose before ages 3-4.

Interestingly, motor repetitions in autism, such as repetitive object use, can serve as a mechanism for trial-and-error discovery. This allows individuals to fuel their motor routines and explore variations that may lead to inventive and useful configurations of objects [5].

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are another key behavioral indicator of ASD in toddlers. These can include unusual responses to noise, light, touch, smell, or movement. According to research, these sensory problems may trigger some of the repetitive and restricted behaviors observed in children with autism. Over-responsiveness to sensations is often related to RRBs [4].

For instance, a child with ASD might cover their ears and exhibit distress in response to certain sounds that might seem normal to others. Similarly, they might show aversion to specific textures or be overly fascinated by certain visual stimuli.

Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances are also common in toddlers with ASD. These can include difficulties falling asleep, frequent night awakenings, and early morning awakenings. Sleep problems can exacerbate the symptoms of ASD and affect the child's daytime behavior, learning ability, and overall quality of life.

It's important to remember that while these signs can indicate a potential ASD diagnosis, they are not definitive. Each child with ASD is unique and may exhibit different combinations of these behaviors. A professional assessment is crucial in diagnosing ASD and implementing effective intervention strategies.

Developmental Milestones

Understanding developmental milestones for 2-year-old children can be crucial in identifying early signs of autism and initiating intervention as needed. These milestones typically include expectations in communication and social-emotional skills.

Communication Expectations

At this age, children usually demonstrate significant advances in their communication abilities. According to KidsHealth, by age 3, most toddlers should be using short sentences and have approximately a 200-word vocabulary. They are generally capable of following a two- or three-step command, identifying common objects and pictures, and understanding simple questions.

However, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association states that by age 2, a child should at least be able to follow simple directions, answer yes/no questions, and identify simple objects in pictures.

Communication Milestones Age
Follow simple directions 2
Answer yes/no questions 2
Identify simple objects in pictures 2
Use short sentences 3
Have a 200-word vocabulary 3
Follow a two or three-step command 3
Identify common objects and pictures 3
Understand simple questions 3

If a 2-year-old child experiences significant difficulties in achieving these communication milestones, it is recommended to seek professional evaluation by an ASHA-certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist (SLP) to assess their development [2]. It's important to remember that speech and language development can vary among children in this age range, with some achieving these milestones earlier or later than others.

Social-Emotional Skills

Social-emotional development is a crucial aspect of a child's growth, especially at the age of 2. During this time, they should be starting to show signs of empathy, play cooperatively with others, and understand the concept of taking turns. They should also begin to express a wide range of emotions, and their imaginative play should be expanding.

If a 2-year-old shows difficulties in these areas, such as a lack of interest in social interactions, limited emotional expressivity, or a lack of imaginative play, these could potentially be early signs of autism. As with communication milestones, there can be a range of typical development, and some children might achieve these milestones earlier or later than others.

Understanding these developmental milestones is an essential part of monitoring a child's growth and early detection of potential signs of autism. If there are concerns, seeking a professional evaluation can provide guidance and, if necessary, early intervention strategies.

Early Intervention Importance

Recognizing the signs of autism in a 2-year-old is the first step towards ensuring the necessary support and interventions. The earlier autism is identified, the sooner intervention strategies can be implemented, which are crucial for promoting the child's development and learning.

Professional Assessment

When signs of autism are observed in a 2-year-old, it's crucial to seek a professional evaluation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening all children for autism at ages 18 months and 24 months, along with developmental and behavioral screenings at 9 months, 18 months, and 30 months to ensure early detection [6].

If a 2-year-old child has significant difficulties in communication milestones, a professional evaluation by an ASHA-certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist (SLP) is recommended. This assessment can provide a better understanding of the child's development and can help identify potential speech or language difficulties that might require intervention. (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

It's important to note that research indicates that by age 2, a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by an experienced professional can be considered reliable. This fact underscores the importance of early evaluation and intervention.

Intervention Strategies

Once an assessment has been conducted and a diagnosis has been made, appropriate intervention strategies can be implemented. These strategies are designed to support the child's development and learning, targeting areas such as communication, social interaction, and behavior.

Intervention strategies may include:

  • Speech and language therapy: This strategy focuses on improving the child's communication skills, including speaking, understanding, and using language.
  • Occupational therapy: This approach helps the child develop skills necessary for daily activities, such as dressing, eating, and playing.
  • Behavioral therapy: This strategy, often based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles, is geared towards encouraging positive behaviors and reducing harmful or disruptive ones.

The specific strategies used will depend on the child's individual needs and abilities. By starting these interventions early, the child has a better chance of developing essential skills and achieving their full potential.

Red Flags for Autism Spectrum Disorder

In the process of identifying signs of autism in 2-year-olds, certain red flags can indicate a higher likelihood of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These include a regression in skills and significant impacts on development.

Regression in Skills

A crucial red flag in ASD is an observed regression in skills. Some children with ASD may stop gaining new skills or even lose previously acquired skills after around 18 to 24 months of age, highlighting the need for ongoing monitoring and support for developmental milestones. Approximately 25% of children later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder may exhibit a regression in language and social skills that were previously acquired, typically occurring between the ages of 15 and 24 months. This regression is characterized by a sudden or gradual decrease in language use and increased social withdrawal.

Impact on Development

The presence of repetitive and restricted behaviors (RRBs) can significantly impact a child's development, serving as another red flag for ASD. According to the Kennedy Krieger Institute, young children with ASD show RRBs which are "almost always present" and persist over time as the child grows. These behaviors are more common and severe in toddlers with ASD compared to toddlers who are developing typically or have other disorders. RRBs in autism can include body movements like flicking fingers in front of one’s eyes, rocking back and forth, moving objects repetitively, or spinning in circles. Some of these behaviors could potentially be harmful to the child.

It's important to note that while these red flags can indicate a higher likelihood of ASD, they are not definitive. A professional assessment is necessary to accurately diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder. Parents and caregivers who notice these signs should seek a professional evaluation immediately. Early intervention can significantly improve outcomes for children with ASD, reinforcing the importance of early detection and intervention strategies.


[1]: https://www.readingrockets.org/topics/autism-spectrum-disorder/articles/red-flags-autism-toddlers

[2]: https://www.asha.org/public/developmental-milestones/communication-milestones-2-to-3-years/

[3]: https://www.lucieslist.com/guides/behavioral-series/behavior-normal-two-year-old/

[4]: https://www.kennedykrieger.org/stories/interactive-autism-network-ian/repetitivemotionsand_obsessions

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8280472/

[6]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/signs-autism

[7]: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Autism/Pages/Early-Signs-of-Autism-Spectrum-Disorders.aspx