The More Subtle Signs of Autism

The More Subtle Signs of Autism

2 April 2022 • Words by Karla Pretorius 3 mins

With the increase in awareness and acceptance of Autism, parents are aware of the more evident signs – challenges with communication, behavioral issues, social interaction difficulties, and sensory sensitivities. But what about the more subtle signs – the feeling you have as a parent that your child might be on the Autism Spectrum. What about when you walk out of the pediatrician’s office, and your intuition says the typical response from your doctor, “he’s just a boy,” does not suffice? You are the true expert on your child’s needs, and you just know when your child is struggling – even though they might be masking these struggles.

5 subtle signs of Autism to look out for and perhaps get a second opinion by a different pediatrician: 

Your child is communicating, but not with you; instead, they talk at you

When you have a conversation with your child, they might state what they want or speak of their interests, but they are heavily disinterested when you ask them about their day or share something about yours. They might walk away or talk again about their interests. At first, you might think this is typical of their age. Then you might wonder if it’s a bit rude of them. But later, you think that this is the only way they are comfortable communicating. When the topic is of interest and some of the facts they state are pretty repetitive, they seem to remember these by heart.

They seem to want to frustrate you

By this, I mean if your child typically waits for a response after breaking something or making a bit of a mess, and then when they receive a negative response, they laugh. Although this can be pretty infuriating, it might mean that they are excited about the actual gravity of the reaction and not quite understanding that they were the reason you are feeling sad, angry or frustrated.

General instructions are ignored

If you say, “clean your room,” you might not know where to start or what about it? Does it include sweeping or reordering toys? This might lead your child not to do anything.

They are choosing items before people

Your child might enjoy spending time alone with a specific electronic or toy more than with siblings or peers. Although this can be a very typical response from children, we look at the frequency of them choosing items from people they seem to like and determine if this affects their ability to interact socially.

Changes are challenging

We all struggle with changes during our lives. We saw this during the pandemic. It was hard for us to adapt, wear a mask, be restricted to our homes and specific areas, and generally just be worried. Autistic children struggle heavily with changes in their routines, transitioning from one environment to another and understanding that if one activity ends, another might be exciting. They generally enjoy “sameness” and structure. They love being prepared for upcoming changes and appreciate researching a new place or event they might go to.

Again, these signs are not definite indicators that your child might be on the Autism spectrum. It does help to look out for more subtle signs, though. Many children, especially young girls, will mask these challenges, becoming a more significant issue later. According to Ratto et al. (2018), females are more likely to camouflage or mask their communicative and social impairments than males and less likely to be diagnosed with Autism.

Ratto, A. B., Kenworthy, L., Yerys, B. E., Bascom, J., Wieckowski, A. T., White, S. W., Wallace, G. L., Pugliese, C., Schultz, R. T., Ollendick, T. H., Scarpa, A., Seese, S., Register-Brown, K., Martin, A., & Anthony, L. G. (2018). What About the Girls? Sex-Based Differences in Autistic Traits and Adaptive Skills. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 48(5), 1698–1711.

Karla Pretorius

A registered counselor with a MA in Psychology. Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental