Is It Autism? 19 Early Signs

It can be really scary when you start feeling like something is off with your child. We get a lot of visitors to our site whose child doesn’t yet have a diagnosis. We can’t diagnose your child and neither can you, but we can share some red flags that parents often notice before a diagnosis is made.

Keep in mind that one or two of these (except regression) does not necessarily mean your child needs to be evaluated. The more of these you feel apply to your child, the more sense it makes to get your child evaluated sooner than later. Don’t wait just because you are afraid someone might confirm what you are feeling in your gut. The sooner you know, the sooner your child can get services. This is important because early intervention has been linked to better outcomes.

We are also going to list some of the first steps other parents have taken to help improve the symptoms and behaviors of their kids on the spectrum and some common sense things you can do right away too.



This is a big one. If your child was meeting developmental milestones and is suddenly losing skills, (especially if it’s right after a specific illness, injury, or event) that is a red flag. Many children lose speech, see a decline in motor skills (can’t feed themselves anymore, can’t walk after being able to), and lose social skills. Within just weeks of getting my amalgam fillings removed while I was still breastfeeding, Bear stopped saying words and stopped making eye contact. It’s like he was in a fog.


Not Responding to Their Name

This was something we noticed with Bear and with our youngest, Bodhi. They stopped turning toward us or acknowledging when we called their name. When it happened with Bear, I initially was afraid he might have lost his hearing. We got his hearing tested right away and his tests were all normal. If your child has ear infections all the time this can also affect hearing. Be sure to raise any concerns with your doctor.


Does your child lean over things like the arm of the couch or a yoga ball to put pressure on their stomach or contort themselves into strange positions? This is commonly due to constipation and they are trying to find relief with pressure or through contortion. It’s even more likely this is a sign of discomfort if your child is not having normal bowel movements twice daily.

Tip Toeing or Toe Walking

This can be a sensory issue or another sign of constipation. In some children, it’s a structural issue unrelated to autism.

W Sitting

This is when your child sits on their bottom with their legs out to the sides and their feet on either side of their bum, from above they make a “w” shape. Not always, but this can be a sign of low muscle tone in the torso.

If your child is constantly sitting like this or seems tired after sitting cross-legged even for short periods it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. If this is accompanied by difficulty “crossing the midline”, passing an object from one hand to the other or moving an arm or hand across the body, it should probably be evaluated sooner than later.

Check out this fantastic article by Lemon Lime Adventures for an in-depth explanation.

Speech Delay

Not babbling or using other meaningful gestures (waving, pointing, baby sign language) by 12 months. Doesn’t use one-word communication by 16 months. Doesn’t use two-word communication by 24 months.

Sleep Problems

This can be trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night for more than 20 minutes. For two years Bear was waking up EVERY night for 2-4 hours.  If you can relate or think your child may have issues with healthy sleep please check out our 2 part podcast series on Sleep and Autism.

Extreme Picky Eating

Bear started refusing foods, even ones he used to love. He would try anything when he was a baby and was a great eater, but after his regression around 15 months, he would scream, physically push foods away, and even gag or vomit when we tried to feed him.

Dairy and/or Carb Addiction

At one point, Bear was drinking over a gallon of organic milk a day. I told myself it was okay because milk was good for him and at least he was getting a lot of nutrients to make up for what he wasn’t eating, right? What I found out is that milk has a protein called casein and it has peptides that may act as an opioid. They are called casomorphins. Gluten has a similar issue for some.

Research isn’t conclusive, but it’s worth looking into. Here’s one of many studies: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24657283/.

At one point, Bear was drinking over a gallon of organic milk a day. I told myself it was okay because milk was good for him and at least he was getting a lot of nutrients to make up for what he wasn’t eating, right?

The carb addiction, you know, the one where they only want to eat fruit or goldfish crackers, can also be a sign of imbalances in gut bacteria and in neurotransmitter levels.

Abnormal Elimination

Chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea, or going back and forth between the two are signs of a damaged gut. Same goes for poop that constantly has a ton of mucus in it. “Fluffy” looking poop can signal a fungal imbalance in the intestines. Gut health affects almost everything so please don’t ignore this sign!!

Excessive running, climbing, spinning

 Our kids both started running endless circles around the kitchen island, running across furniture, climbing on everything. All kids run and play, but for our kids these running and climbing behaviors became repetitive and almost obsessive.

Sensory seeking

This can look like spinning, crashing into things, jumping in place, pushing heavy objects, and more. Their body doesn’t seem to report its position in space or the pressure it’s received accurately to the brain. Swinging and jumping can help organize and regulate the brain.

Sensory defensiveness

Very hard time with noises, certain tastes or textures, will only wear certain fabrics, clothing tags and socks can be difficult to bear, not wanting to be touched, and more. Children can be seekers, avoiders or both by seeking input from one sense and avoiding it from another (loves jumping or swinging but doesn’t like to be touched).

Difficulty with transitions

Lots of kids don’t want to stop doing a preferred activity and might even fuss a bit to protest. Kids on the spectrum might have a total meltdown or struggle with every single transition. Change feels scary and sensory and social difficulties make it even more stressful.

Obsessive or repetitive behaviors

Lining up toys, flipping light switches on and off, opening and closing doors, flicking the springy thing that keeps the doorknob from hitting the wall, constantly wanting to touch the scar on my hand because it comforted him, obsessively pinching the loose skin on my elbow or between my finger and thumb, picking at his nails when he was anxious, stuff like that.

Odd vision related behaviors

Wiggling or moving the hands or fingers in front of the eyes. Looking out the side of the eye at a toy repeatedly.

Easily fatigued

Laying down a lot or getting tired easily shouldn’t be a child’s “normal”. A large percentage of kids on the spectrum have mitochondrial malfunction that can cause this and other symptoms.

Always sick or never sick

Never sick might sound like a good thing, but it can be a sign that the immune system isn’t functioning appropriately. Fever and the occasional cold symptoms are actually signs that the immune system is working to protect the body. Always sick may also be a sign of a weakened immune system.

Not sharing or showing

“Look, momma!” When your child isn’t bringing you things to share with you or show you it can be a sign that they are struggling with what’s called “joint attention”. It’s a social and developmental deficit that is a common red flag for autism.

Never sick might sound like a good thing, but it can be a sign that the immune system isn’t functioning appropriately.

This is not an exhaustive list and if you see one or two of these things that doesn’t mean your child will get a diagnosis. Early intervention is critical. Trust your gut. If you think something is wrong, don’t wait. If your pediatrician brushes you off and you still feel uneasy it’s okay to take action.


So what are some things you can do?


Schedule an evaluation and start services (if indicated) ASAP.

Your pediatrician should have information about Early Intervention services in your area or be able to give you information about where to go for an evaluation if you are outside the US.


Detox your home.

An easy transition if you haven’t made it already is to stop using toxic cleaning chemicals. There are many more natural alternatives. Leave shoes at the door so outdoor toxins don’t get tracked in. Stop using plastics with BPA (or plastics in general) and get rid of your non-stick cookware. For more ideas check out 20 Ways to Detox Your Home by Dr. Frank Lipman


Reduce or remove processed foods.

A good rule of thumb is to try to look for products when you shop that have less than 5-6 ingredients, all of which you can pronounce. Processed foods can damage the gut and increase inflammation in the body.


Consider trying diet changes like removing dairy and gluten.

The majority of kids on the spectrum see an improvement in symptoms (to varying degrees) when diet changes are made, but diet changes can be tough. Healing Hope Tribe has created a step by step course to walk you through the science and the process and included it for premium members. 


Consider using Ibuprofen instead of Acetaminophen (Tylenol/Paracetamol).

Acetaminophen depletes one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants, glutathione,  a major player in the natural detoxification processes within the body. For most kids it’s not a big deal, but many children with an autism diagnosis show lower than normal levels of glutathione on testing. Adding something else to the body that further limits their detoxification capabilities can be catastrophic.

Seek out a Functional Medicine doctor who has experience with autism.

The majority of pediatricians aren’t trained to help you and your child with the symptoms of autism. The model of care they use is great for acute issues, but not for complex ones like autism that can have many root causes and interwoven symptoms. Functional medicine doctors have a unique approach that identifies the root causes and restores health instead of just masking symptoms. Our second course for our premium members discusses your provider and testing options in detail and members have access to our provider list as well.


At Healing Hope Tribe we strive to provide the resources and support to help parents and their kids on the spectrum thrive and maximize their health. Even if you don’t have a diagnosis yet, the tips and resources we provide may help you understand the causes of difficult symptoms like picky eating, aggression, speech delays, and more. When you find the cause, you can start to heal it.


If you feel scared and need support. . .


If your gut is telling you something is wrong, but you don’t know where to begin. . .


If you feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting information or treatment choices. . .


If you want to be a strong, confident advocate for your child. . .


The parents at Healing Hope Tribe are here to help, we have been there. We know how isolated and lost we felt and how much we needed support. If you aren’t ready to join our Private Community, but want more free guidance, we get it! We’ll send you our Free PDF Guide and 9-Day Email Mini-Course Series with some first steps you can take. Just fill out the form below and we will send it your way, right away.




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