What Is Autism and What Are the Early Symptoms in Young Children?

Autism was first officially identified in the mid-20th century. 

It was 1943 when the American child psychiatrist Dr. Leo Kanner published a paper describing 11 children who displayed a “high degree of aloneness” and “an obsessive insistence on persistent sameness.” His research marked the formal recognition of autism.

Officially known as “autism spectrum disorder,” autism is a complex and multifaceted condition that impacts the neurological development of an individual. It predominantly shapes the way people perceive, interact with, and respond to their environment.

Autism is called a ‘spectrum’ because the symptoms differ from person to person. Some people may lead completely independent lives while others may require significant support.

What Causes Autism?

The exact cause of autism remains unknown. However, research suggests that it is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Certain genetic mutations can make a person more susceptible to autism. In many cases, these mutations are believed to be random, but in some situations, they may be inherited.

Environmental factors like prenatal exposure to certain drugs or chemicals may also increase autism risk.

For example, the medication Tylenol, a form of acetaminophen, has recently been linked with children who are born with specific developmental disorders, especially ADHD and autism. In turn, several lawsuits have been filed against Tylenol’s manufacturers and retailers.

Check out this update on the Tylenol autism lawsuit to find out more.

While no single cause for autism has been identified, it’s clear that both genetics and environmental factors can play roles in the development of this complex disorder.

And as more studies are conducted, we may get closer to understanding precisely what causes autism.

Early Symptoms in Young Children

The emergence of symptoms of autism can vary greatly among children. Still, some common early indicators can often be observed.

Sometimes such symptoms are noticeable in early years, before a child’s third birthday, while other times, symptoms may develop later.

Here are just some of the early symptoms that could indicate a child has autism.

Social Interaction Challenges

Children with autism might struggle with social skills and interactions. They may show less interest in making eye contact or do not respond to their names being called.

They might prefer to play alone and appear uninterested in engaging with others.

Communication Difficulties

Difficulty in communicating is also a common sign of autism. Some children may delay speaking, while others may not develop speech skills at all. They may repeat words or phrases but struggle to use them contextually.

Repetitive Behaviors

Young children with autism often display repetitive behaviors. These can include lining up toys in a certain order, repeatedly opening and closing doors, or obsessively switching lights on and off.

Any change to their routine might be met with intense resistance.

Restrictive Interests

Another early symptom is an unusually intense focus on certain interests or topics, showing advanced knowledge for their age in these areas but limited interest elsewhere.

Sensory Sensitivities

Many autistic children have strong reactions to sensory inputs like smells, sounds, textures, and tastes. Their reaction can both be under-reactive (e.g., showing no reaction to painful stimuli) and over-reactive (e.g., finding normal noises extremely loud).

They may also seek out specific sensory stimuli, such as preferring to touch certain textures or move in specific ways.


It’s crucial to remember that the above symptoms are only potential symptoms of autism. Not every child with autism will exhibit all of them.

But those signs do indicate that a child may benefit from a professional evaluation.

Early intervention can make a significant difference in helping children with autism develop skills and strategies to help them thrive; because no matter the challenges they face, every child possesses an incredible potential for growth and success.

Scroll to Top