Why early intervention is so important for little people on the autism spectrum

I’ve always noticed some unique behaviours in my three year old toddler, since he was about two years old that made me consider that they could be autistic traits. As a neurodivergent mum with a young child showing signs of autism,  the whirlwind of emotions that I had was overwhelming.

Now I realise that recognising these traits early on can be crucial in getting the support your child needs to thrive. Here’s a guide that I put together to help new parents identify potential autistic traits and seek early intervention services and supports. This is not professional advice nor is it a diagnostic tool. It is simply our own observations and based on our experience as new parents.

1. Social Communication Challenges

  • Limited Use of Gestures: Such as pointing or waving bye-bye.
  • Delayed Speech Development: Not babbling by 12 months or speaking words by 16 months.
  • Infrequent Eye Contact: May not make eye contact when interacting with others.
  • Difficulty Understanding Emotions: Trouble interpreting facial expressions or tone of voice.


2. Engagement Differences

  • Preference for Solitary Play: Often plays alone and may not show interest in other children. This is different to parallel play - many other parents would tell me that I had nothing to worry about as all kids parallel played at 2-3 years old.
  • Unusual Play Patterns: May line up toys or play with parts of toys instead of the whole toy. For our toddler, he lined everything up - magnets on the fridge, his plush toys and other toys found around the house.


3. Behavioural Particularities

  • Repetitive Behaviours: Engaging in the same actions or movements over and over. For my toddler, it would be spinning.
  • Insistence on Sameness: Becoming distressed over minor changes in routine or environment even though we never provided a strict routine.
  • Intense Focus on Specific Interests: May focus deeply on a particular topic or object at the exclusion of other activities. For my toddler, it is trucks, fire engines and helicopters.


4. Sensory Sensitivities

  • Adverse to Certain Textures: Both in foods and clothing, may strongly reject specific items based on texture. For my toddler, it is puffer jackets and “noisy” clothes and tags on shirts. As for foods, we haven’t figured out which textures he prefers but he is certainly a very picky eater.
  • Overwhelmed by Noises: Certain sounds, even those that are ordinary, can be upsetting or painful.
  • Visual Fascinations: Might be extremely interested in lights or the movement of objects.


5. Communication Nuances

Echolalia: Repeating words or phrases heard without understanding the context.

Unconventional Language Use: May invent words or phrases, or use language in a unique way. For my toddler, he invented new sign languages.

  • expressive vs receptive language:

Expressive language is the ability to put thoughts into words and sentences, in both spoken and written form.

Receptive language is the ability to understand spoken or written language. This includes understanding words, sentences, and the meaning of what others say or what is read. For my toddler, he needs support in his expressive language, for example, if he wants someone out of his personal space, he will say goodbye, rather than for example, asking them to please move.

Autism is a spectrum, and no two children will display these traits in exactly the same way or combination. These traits may vary greatly in intensity and some may not be present at all. These are the traits that my toddler has. Early recognition and diagnosis are key as early intervention can significantly support developmental growth and help him thrive.

I am so grateful for organisations such as the Benevolent Society in Australia who has helped us navigate through this journey.

If you notice some of these traits in your child, consider getting an evaluation from a professional with experience in child development, such as a paediatrician, child psychologist. That can be quite expensive and the waitlists are at least 6 months. We are still waiting to see our paediatrician for an assessment so we looked into getting other supports. I’ll be writing up the steps we took leading up to getting our NDIS plan and sending it via our newsletter, so sign up (below) if you’re interested.

As neurodivergent parents, advocating for our children becomes our superpower. Trust your instincts, seek out support, and remember that your love and understanding are the most powerful tools in your child’s development journey.

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