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Signs of autism in children

Autism in young children

Signs of autism in young children include:

  • not responding to their name
  • avoiding eye contact
  • not smiling when you smile at them
  • getting very upset if they do not like a certain taste, smell or sound
  • repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, flicking their fingers or rocking their body
  • not talking as much as other children
  • not doing as much pretend play
  • repeating the same phrases

Autism in older children

Signs of autism in older children include:

  • not seeming to understand what others are thinking or feeling
  • unusual speech, such as repeating phrases and talking ‘at’ others
  • liking a strict daily routine and getting very upset if it changes
  • having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities
  • getting very upset if you ask them to do something
  • finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on their own
  • taking things very literally – for example, they may not understand phrases like "break a leg"
  • finding it hard to say how they feel

Autism in girls and boys

Autism can sometimes be different in girls and boys.

Autistic girls may:

  • hide some signs of autism by copying how other children behave and play
  • withdraw in situations they find difficult
  • appear to cope better with social situations
  • show fewer signs of repetitive behaviours

This means autism can be harder to spot in girls.

The National Autistic Society has more information about autistic women and girls.

Non-urgent advice: Get advice if:

  • you think your child might be autistic

You could speak to:

  • a GP
  • a health visitor (for children under 5)
  • any other health professional your child sees, such as another doctor or therapist
  • special educational needs (SENCO) staff at your child's school

Getting diagnosed can help your child get any extra support they might need.

Find out how to get diagnosed

Page last reviewed: 11 November 2022
Next review due: 11 November 2025